<< preface

this blog is nina wenhart's collection of resources on the various histories of new media art. it consists mainly of non or very little edited material i found flaneuring on the net, sometimes with my own annotations and comments, sometimes it's also textparts i retyped from books that are out of print.

it is also meant to be an additional resource of information and recommended reading for my students of the prehystories of new media class that i teach at the school of the art institute of chicago in fall 2008.

the focus is on the time period from the beginning of the 20th century up to today.

>> search this blog


>> Edward Ihnatovicz, "Portrait of the Artist as an Enineer"

from: http://www.senster.com/ihnatowicz/articles/artist_as_engineer.pdf

Edward Ihnatowicz
[Book proposal. Unfinished and unpublished.
Date unknown: at least pre-1988. Found in his

The book deals with three major topics:
1. How an artist became involved in high technology
2. Why at present behaviour is more significant than appearance
3. Why physical motion is a precondition of perception

List of possible chapter headings and topics:
• Background and reasons for writing the book.
• Disillusionment with representational art and mistrust of the abstract.
• Search for the meaning of shapes.
• Functionalism – shapes dictated by function – as a safety net.
• Reconciliation with engineering.
• Search for motivation for mechanical functions.
• Speculations about ultimate technology.
• Science-fiction story and robots.
• Experiments with hydraulics and control of motion.
4. SAM
• Ideas into practice – first exhibit.
• Behaviour v. Appearance.
• Sound location as a motive for motion.
• Spectator participation closes the loop in autonomous behaviour.
• Movement as a method of communication.
• Discovery of SAM-like shapes in nature.
• Lobsters have simple mechanisms and simple nervous systems.
• Mathematics of motion.
• Analogue computing
• The Big Break.
• Geodesic structure and constraints of power transmission.
• Computer control.
• Digital sound location.
• Radar.
• Machine as an animal.
• Experiments with simple learning systems.
• Study of natural systems, tropisms and taxes.
• Data and Information.
• Nature of mechanical information.
• A simple lever system.
• A.I. research tool into an art exhibit.
• Mechanical shape determination.
• Concept of direction at a critical point in evolution.
• Robotics.
• Problems of internal representation of environment.
• Three-degrees-of-freedom arm and force resolving.
• Need for multi-disciplinary approach to robotics.
• Motion parameters as natural information storage.
• Skill as memory – thinking with muscles.
• Relevance of manipulation to the process of perception.
• Conclusions

I am writing this book because of the strong desire to communicate a view of perception which I have arrived at through construction, actual and contemplated, of moving, cybernetic pieces of sculpture. Although I have followed an artistic approach, the results I believe to be valid also in the scientific sense, as well as of practical value in the fields of robotics and advanced automation. The method by
which I arrived at these results and the fact that I am not a scientist conspire
to make a rigorously scientific treatment of them difficult and would, perhaps, make it counter-productive. The approach I have chosen, therefore, is to describe the various stages I have gone through in my work and in my thinking, hoping that by the
end of the book the reader will understand my view of this very complex problem of perception, even if he does not agree with my conclusions.
The very severe limitation of the present-day robot is that it cannot be relied upon to deal with unforeseen changes in its environment even of the most trivial kind. This results from our lack of understanding of the nature of the process by which we, and other animals, inform ourselves about the state of the world outside of us.
Attempts at improving this situation are proving very expensive, limited and not
very informative as to the direction in which we are going. The problem is urgent and the solution not at all imminent.
My hope is that this book will make acceptable my argument which, in a nut-shell, is that in order for any system, natural or artificial, to be able to deduce anything at all about any object simply by looking at it, it must first be able, or must have been able in the past, to interact with it in some mechanical way. Moreover, only those aspects of the object which can be modified by such actions can ever be
successfully interpreted. This view has important implications in the field of
visual data processing, leading to the conclusion that the future thinking
machine will be a robot and not just a computer.
I shall begin in 1962 when I gave up a reasonably promising career in business (although without having put any money by) to live in an unconverted garage and return to art in which I began as a student in 1945 but subsequently abandoned.
Returning to it after such a long break made me extremely self-conscious
and inclined to question the motives behind and the validity of every artistic
decision. I was now nearly forty but my art has not matured with me and was
no better than that I had produced as a student where, in sculpture at least, I
was considered by my teachers promising. It was certainly much less convincing. I was encouraged to persevere, however, by the realisation that inwardly I had no faith in the type of art I was trying to produce nor, for that matter of any other being produced around me. My stuff was doffedly traditional and, dissatisfied
with it though I was, I resisted any temptation to join any of the trendy movements, hoping to find my own way.
I was, however, always interested in engineering, tinkering really, I was forever helping people with their cars and motorbikes, and so I arrived at a sort of compromise. I produced a number of pieces constructed out of parts of old motor cars and even sold a couple. They were not serious sculpture but I enjoyed making them
and it occurred to me that enjoying one’s work was important and that, perhaps, I should stop trying so hard to be an artist and just try to find some activity which would make me feel like jumping out of bed every morning to get on with it.
One thing I knew I would always enjoy was working with machines and so, in the end, I have developed a curious form of engineering in which calculation was replaced by intuition and concern for cost-effectiveness by enthusiasm. I tried to design simple
components as if they were parts of supersonic aircraft where every ounce of material mattered and cost was no object. The first result of this “conversion” was SAM or Sound Activated Mobile shown at the 1968 Cybernetic Serendipity exhibition at
the Institute of Contemporary Art and the first genuine piece of sculpture I
had produced. It consisted of a spinelike articulated structure surmounted
by an array of microphones and a flower-like arrangement of acoustic reflectors, which, powered by a hydraulic pump, turned towards anyone making a noise in its vicinity. The path by which I acquired sufficient knowledge to construct SAM
was rather tortuous. It began with the simultaneous realisation that the
shapes of the highly engineered components of the cars I was taking to
pieces were more satisfactory from the aesthetic point of view than my feeble
attempts at abstract sculpture, through having more conviction and an air purposefulness and suitability for the tasks for which they were intended; and also that those tasks invariably involved some form of physical motion or transmission of forces. Clearly one way of making my abstract pieces more convincing could be to invent imaginary functions for them and make sure that they looked capable of performing them. Better still would be actually to make them move but not in the repetitive way like Tinguely’s but in a natural, animal-like way. Movement has always held a great fascination for me and even in the little wax figurines I was making at the time I was attempting to convey if not of actual movement then certainly of potential actions. Clearly a possibility now existed of generating
such movements directly. During my vandalising of cars I dismantled and reconstructed a hydraulic braking system and was impressed with the power and precision with which it could be made to move quite heavy objects. This was obviously a very good way of producing very subtle and wellcontrolled motion and the oil could be delivered to any number of actuators through flexible piping, but to do this required an ability to control precisely the amount of oil being fed to a
hydraulic piston. Foot pedals clearly had to be replaced by a motorised pump and the flow controlled by valves. Some method of automatically controlling the valves was required and, even more importantly, an ability to define precisely the motion to be
My first attempts at making hydraulic pistons were quite disastrous and so I looked for ready-made small pistons. After a long search I found some at a hydraulic press
manufacturer’s who found some included accidentally with a government-surplus press he had bought. Included were some servovalves which I bought, although neither I nor the dealer knew what they were. In tracking down the function of these valves I made contact with the City University where I learned about the existence of a whole field of engineering science called control engineering, concerned with precisely
the sort of problems I was intending to tackle.
The servo-valve turned out to be an electro-hydraulic transducer in which the amount of current flowing through the electrical part of it, the socalled torque motor, determines very precisely the amount of oil that the valve will pass. It was clearly the perfect way of controlling the motion of a kinetic sculpture.
SAM I though of as a neck of a robot which defined sufficiently well the sort of movements it would be required to produce, but this still left me with arbitrary decision as to when and how it should produce these movements. The sound-seeking array of microphones solved that problem although not without some difficulties;
the phase-discriminating system finally used was given to me by a friend from Cambridge university, a co-exhibitor at the exhibition. SAM was reasonably successful, more through luck than design (I did not see it move under electronic
control until it was installed at the exhibition) but its movements were far too unpredictable and uncontrollable for their mechanism to be of use in the more elaborate sculptures I was hoping to produce. I returned to the control engineers. The mathematics used by these people were quite beyond me but I became fascinated by one piece of equipment used extensively in that field – the analogue computer. In
learning to use it I had to learn a bit about calculus, which was painful but worth while because I could now think of motion in a much more precise way. I bought an army-surplus oscilloscope, constructed a simple analogue computer and could the spot on the screen move in quite elegant ways. I learned how to make my own hydraulic
actuators and found out about the various methods of honing, grinding, hardening and sealing, eventually constructing a simple servo-system which would move a lever in strict accordance with the pattern displayed on the oscilloscope.
Although the various waveforms produced by the computer were pleasing, and the physical motion of the lever encouraging, I needed a more precise way of describing the motions to be produced in terms of velocities and accelerations and time
intervals. I also needed to understand better how we and other animals move and to this end I contacted some people working with powered prosthetics, having learned that they were analysing movements of human arms during the performance of various tasks. I was amazed to discover that the motion of a human elbow when performing a wellrehearsed movement from one point to another exhibited an almost constant
acceleration and deceleration, the sort of motion that I could simulate exactly on my analogue computer. I have also noticed that these people were using digital logic circuits to sequence and control their simulators. I felt it was time to learn more about digital processing.
Digital computing worried me because it seemed to require not only a much better knowledge of electronics than I possess, but also a knowledge of Boolean logic, Venn
diagrams and the like. I tackled this problem by first attending a course on fluidics, a vogue technology then, in which the various logic functions of AND, OR and such could be performed by deflecting jets of air in various ingenious devices. Not involving electronics they were easier to understand so that I felt able to
tackle the construction of their electronic counterparts when they appeared in Wireless World as parts of a home-computer project. I eventually constructed a small logic network which, together with a pair of digital-toanalogue converters, enabled my hydraulic lever to perform a great variety of movements.
I took great pride in the fact that the shapes which I finally produced for SAM’s neck did indeed look better than my previous sculptures and somewhat bone-like, though I had not tried to imitate any natural forms. I was intrigued, to say the least, therefore, to discover that an almost identical shape existed in nature in the joint of the claw of the lobster. It was not only the similarity of shape which was intriguing. Its operation also was like that of my joint: a simple pivoting action which I had never seem before in nature. Most animals, even those with stiff exo-skeletons have more complex joints which, like our shoulders, can rotate in everal planes at the same time. In the lobster all the joints are simple pivots but in spite of this apparent limitation and in spite of having only six of them in any leg, that leg can perform all the required motions with perfect ease.
I was constructing a model of such a leg, the better to understand its construction at the time, when a friend of mine introduced me to James Gardener, the designer, who was responsible for the permanent technological exhibition in Eindhoven
in Holland, which was a showpiece of Philips, the giant electrical firm. G, as he was generally known, introduced me to Philips and persuaded them to commission me to produce a large moving sculpture which he eventually christened The Senster. This was a huge undertaking which took me three years to complete but which enabled me to put many of the ideas I had been toying with into practice. It took the general form of(what else) a great lobster’s claw with the pincer replaced by a moving array
of microphones like SAM’s, except that the whole thing was now run by a digital computer, had proper industrial actuators and servo-valves and I had a professional engineer from Mullards to help with electronics. I had by that time established a
close relationship with a number of people in the Department of Mechanical Engineering of University College London where I went frequently for advice and for the last year of working on the Senster I moved there completely.
I spent about six months in Eindhoven, about half of that time sitting the exhibition hall programming the Senster and observing the interaction between it and the spectators, and I came to the conclusion that the shape and the general appearance of the structure were of very little significance compared to its behaviour, and especially to its ability to respond to the public. People seemed very willing to imbue it with some form of animallike intelligence and the general
atmosphere around it was very much like that in the zoo. Knowing just how little went on in fact inside that animal’s head, I felt like a fraud and resolved that any future monster of mine would be more genuinely intelligent. I was sufficiently naïve at the time to believe that my failure was simply that of not consulting the right people in the Artificial Intelligence fraternity about the correct programmes (I was
convinced there would be many such) to use in these circumstances.
Although I was delighted when on my return from Holland I was quite unexpectedly invited to join the staff of the Mechanical Engineering department as a research assistant, I was just a little disappointed that it could not have been the department of computer science. Now I feel lucky that I didn’t have that choice.
I soon discovered that those involved with A.I. concerned themselves with completely different problems, or at least that their methods, and especially the criteria
they applied, had very little relevance to my problems. I decided to do a little
research of my own. I felt that since the Senster seemed already almost intelligent I should be able to achieve at least some improvement even on my own and learn something about intelligence, as I understood it, in the process. In any case I had no money to construct any new sculptures and research seemed to be the right thing
to do in a university.
I assumed that the most obvious manifestation of intelligence would be an ability to learn, and tried to think of the simplest possible construction in which such an ability might possibly be demonstrated. I constructed a movable array of five photo-transistors, driven by a stepper-motor with which I attempted to track the motion of a small light attached to a moving arm. The light was moved by a free-running
electric motor and the photo-array was controlled by a digital computer. The central transistor charged a leakycapacitor-circuit so that the charge on it was a measure of how often the transistor pointed in the right direction and so constituted my criterion of success.
It took me a long time to realise that this was getting me nowhere. I was getting embroiled in mathematics which I had trouble understanding while the real understanding of intelligence was receding ever farther. I found that I was using terms like perception, information and knowledge, without really understanding how they could be related to an artificial device. I started reading books about animal behaviour, concentrating on the most primitive systems like lice and maggots, hoping
that their patterns of behaviour would also be simple, as indeed they proved to be. I have succeeded in writing computer simulations for several such simple mechanisms in which imaginary animals tried various techniques to reach a source of stimulus.
I have arrived at two conclusions: one, that mechanical movement was not only the common element in all such experiments but also the only means by which we could establish the presence of any would-be mental activity, and two, that while the
concept of intelligence remained as elusive as ever, the notion of perception seemed as important and perhaps more manageable.
Perception, like mechanical motion, must, of necessity, constitute a part of any form of behaviour and can be thought of as the mechanism by which the sensory data arriving from the eyes or ears or any other type of sensor is organised into a form suitable for producing an appropriate response. That response, in the simple systems I was looking at, was invariably some form of motion, so that the immediate problem seemed to be to discover a method of describing the two sets of phenomena: visual patterns, say, and physical movement, in such a way that their correspondence, which was a physical fact in the outside world, could be reflected inside the system.
I felt that I needed to understand more about the nature of mechanical information and decided to concentrate on that. An opportunity occurred when I was asked to help in the supervision of a very bright Chinese student doing his Ph.D. project who had no strong views on what sort of project he should do and was quite happy to have me
suggest one for him. I suggested a hydraulically-operated mechanical lever, equipped with pressure sensors and connected to a computer, with which it would be possible to move or exert pressure against a variety of objects and in this manner discover
something about their mechanical characteristics. Being connected to a computer,
the arm was capable of operating in two modes: in the position mode it would move to a specified position with a prescribed velocity, largely without regard to any encountered resistance and in pressure mode it would exert a specified pressure against whatever object it encountered. If the specified pressure was zero it would become completely passive and compliant. At that time the Computer Art Society was staging an exhibition on the fringes of the Edinburgh Festival and asked me to contribute. The arm was all that I could show, so together with the student we turned it into an exhibit. The arm was made to operate in both position and pressure mode and people were invited to move it in any way they liked. When compliant,
the computer would store the movements the spectators made and then play them back in position mode. The different ways in which people reacted when the arm suddenly took over were analysed by a statistical programme which was capable of
distinguishing between sexes and of classifying people according to their temperament. The results were printed on a teleprinter and were surprisingly
accurate. We called it The Bandit, after the One-Arm-Bandits of Las Vegas, which it vaguely resembled, and I hoped that it succeeded in showing people how much very subtle information could be transmitted through such a simple gesture as moving a lever. The Bandit was, however, a little off the point as far as my main interest
was concerned. I was forming an idea that perception ought to relate to objects rather than events; that it ought to enable the system to distinguish between itself and the outside world. I felt that a very important distinction should be made between what could be called non-dimensional sensing, that is, aware ness of changes in some stimulus like pressure, noise or light which have a magnitude but no
direction; and the type of perception which could enable the system or animal to determine the shape, size, position or direction of motion of other objects as well as of itself. The Bandit, having only one actuator, could deal only with magnitudes and so another moveable segment was added to it, similarly instrumented and forming, in effect, an elbow.
The new device was reorientated so that the tip moved horizontally, parallel to the surface of a table which could be placed beneath it. I devised an experiment in which the arm could be made to run along a piece of metal placed on the table and the computer could record such runs and deduce the angle at which the piece had been
placed from the relative velocities of the two rotating joints. The point of interest here was that the arm was not given any positional information, merely a value of acceleration, and positional information was what came back to it.
Industrial Robotics seemed a field worth investigating by that time,
especially since I had been unsuccessful in trying to raise money from the Science Research Council and there was a lot of talk about the industrialists being prepared to back research in this field. Although I was convinced that the topics I was investigating should have great relevance to the tasks that the industrialists were planning to undertake I had no illusions about their willingness to support any work as speculative as mine. I therefore embarked on the construction of a practical industrial manipulator, hoping that, having made a start and having demonstrated its potential, I might find a backer to finance its further development. I incorporated in the design some features which I hoped would make it more suitable for operations where sensing of forces would be required. The task threatened to be rather mundane so I decided to use some of my sculptural techniques in the production of the components. This would not detract from their performance (it could, in fact, increase it) nor would it make them any more expensive to produce in quantity. On the other hand it made them more enjoyable to make and I also hoped that they might form the basis for another moving sculpture. I concentrated on the three endsegments
which would provide the twisting and rotating motion for whatever was to be fitted at the end, leaving the remaining large segments which would provide the reach till later, to be made by another technique, possibly fabricated from tubular steel.
With no backing forthcoming I redesigned the device to provide a limited reach which resulted in a threedegrees-of-freedom manipulator with a reasonable performance but few applications and therefore no prospects. By then one of my colleagues had joined me in this venture and we managed to offset the cost of the development of the device
by selling two of them to other research establishments.
The remainder of the book I propose to devote to the explanation of my current ideas about perception and putting forward the proposition that if thinking machines ever develop they will not be computers but robots.

>> Franz Gsellmann's world machine (1958 - 1981)


Tucked behind the southern Austrian hills in a farmhouse outbuilding sits the Weltmaschine (the World Machine). Created over 23 years by Franz Gsellmann, the machine is made up of hundreds of separate parts, including a ship’s propeller, two gondolas, a Dutch windmill, a Persian goblet, a salt and pepper set, five crucifixes, 560 wooden beads, a glass Jesus and a glass Mary, eight lampshades and a barometer, held together with a brightly coloured lattice of wire, pipes and gear wheels. Once powered into action the 25 motors, one-armed bandit, 64 bird whistles, 20 fan belts and 14 bells, whistle, clang and whirr. The 200 coloured lights flash. The poky Austrian farm building is filled with a blaze of noise, colour and light.

The creator of the machine, Franz Gsellmann, grew up dreaming of becoming an engineer, but with just four years of schooling, he seemed destined to spend his life on the family smallholding. His life changed in 1958: seeing an article in the local newspaper about the Brussels Atomium, a huge structure symbolising a crystallised molecule of iron, created by the engineer André Waterkeyn for the International Exhibition, Gsellmann travelled out of Austria for the first time, visited Belgium, and studied the architectural structure for himself."

"accomplishing by extremely complex roundabout means what actually or seemingly could be done simply." That is the definition of a Rube Goldberg machine, but also would apply to Gsellmann's worldmachine. Only that Gsellmann built his machine without any purpose in mind, not even the one of doing something simple in a complicated way. Because it isn't doing anything but moving.

>> Theo Jansen, "Strandbeest"

Jansen about "Strandbeest" (on www.strandbeest.com/idea.html):
"Since 1990 I have been occupied creating new forms of life.

Not pollen or seeds but plastic yellow tubes are used as the basic material of this new nature. I make skeletons that are able to walk on the wind, so they don’t have to eat.

Over time, these skeletons have become increasingly better at surviving the elements such as storms and water and eventually I want to put these animals out in herds on the beaches, so they will live their own lives."

>> Ken Rinaldo, Autopoiesis, 2001

Ken Rinaldo on his approach:

"My interdisciplinary media art installations look to the intersection between natural and technological systems. Integration of the organic and electro-mechanical elements asserts a confluence and co-evolution between living and evolving technological material. I am fascinated and encouraged with human kinds struggle to evolve technological systems that move toward intelligence and autonomy which are modeled from our current conceptions of the natural. My art works are influenced by theories on living systems, artificial life, interspecies communication and the underlying beauty and pattern inherent in the nature and organization of matter, energy, and information. While I find hope and fascination with our techno-cultural evolution, many of my works express concern for ecological issues, which are often not considered within the realm of technological and cultural progress.

[...] The branching and joining of physical forms in my work echoes the behavioral flow and multiple directions an interactive piece may take in the act of self-organizing. I am compelled by open structures that define form but do not close the form off to the viewer. I use exposed electronics and mechanics as part of the aesthetic in proposing structural relationships between wire, circuits and natural structures. I believe it is imperative that technological systems acknowledge and model the evolved wisdom of natural living systems, so they will inherently fuse, to permit an emergent and interdependent earth. Symbio - technoetic can describe this philosophy."

The term autopoiesis was originally introduced by Chilean biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela in 1973:

"An autopoietic machine is a machine organized (defined as a unity) as a network of processes of production (transformation and destruction) of components which: (i) through their interactions and transformations continuously regenerate and realize the network of processes (relations) that produced them; and (ii) constitute it (the machine) as a concrete unity in space in which they (the components) exist by specifying the topological domain of its realization as such a network." (Maturana, Varela, 1980, p. 78)
"[…] the space defined by an autopoietic system is self-contained and cannot be described by using dimensions that define another space. When we refer to our interactions with a concrete autopoietic system, however, we project this system on the space of our manipulations and make a description of this projection." (Maturana, Varela, 1980, p. 89)

The term autopoiesis was originally conceived as an attempt to characterize the nature of living systems. More generally, the notion of autopoiesis is often associated with that of self-organization; an autopoietic system is characterised as being: autonomous and operationally closed, in the sense that every process within it directly helps maintaining the whole. Medium and system are structurally coupled together in a continuous dynamic exchange, which can be considered as knowledge. (compare with Luhmann's Systems Theory).

(shortened from the wikipedia-entry)

>> Edward Ihnatovicz, SAM - Sound Activated Mobile

from: http://www.senster.com/ihnatowicz/SAM/sam.htm

"SAM was the first moving sculpture which moved directly and recognisably in response to what was going on around it. It was exhibited at the 'Cybernetic Serendipity' exhibition which was held initially at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London in 1968 and later toured Canada and the US ending at the Exploratorium in San Fransisco.

SAM consisted of an assembly of aluminium castings somewhat reminiscent of verebrae, surmounted by a flower-like fibreglass reflector with an array of four small microphones mounted immediately in front of it. The vertebrae contained miniature hydraulic pistons which enabled them to move in relation to each other so that the whole column could twist from side to side and lean forwards and backwards. A simple electronic circuit used the signals from the four microphones to determine the direction which any sound in the vicinity was coming from and two electo-hydraulic servo-valves moved the column in the direction of the sound until the microphones faced it.

The resultant behaviour, that of following the movement of people as they walked around its plinth, facinated many observers. Also, since the sculpture was sensitive to quiet but sustained noise, rather than shrieks, a great many people spent hours in front of SAM trying to produce the right level of sound to attract its attention."

--> compare it to cyclops ( Leading Edge Design Corp. , JP, 2001):

>> Grey Walter

>> Iannis Xenakis

from: http://home.wanadoo.nl/eli.ichie/biographyxenakis.html#music

"After writing some early works in the late 1940s, Xenakis' first mature work is Metastasis. At its premiere in 1955 it caused a scandal because it did not deal with serialism, incorporating sound blocks and masses of glissandi instead. This composition is the first where Xenakis, still intuitively, uses mathematical calculations as the basic musical material.
In later works Xenakis started to introduce the probability theory, leading to his so calle Stochastic music.
But he continues searching for new roads and possibilities, resulting in compositions like Duel and Stratégies, based on game-like strategies or Evryali, a composition using aborescences, tree-like branching curves.
From early on and throughout his compositional career, Xenakis composed tape music. His first work is Diamorphoses from 1957 and his most recent composition is S.709 of 1994. In his later tape works he uses computers as well. A fine example of his tape music is Concret PH, composed in 1958 as an overture to Varèse's Poème électronique in the Philips Pavilion at the Expo in Brussels. Part of many of his large scale instrumental and electronic works is the use of light effects, slide shows and laser projections. Examples of these works are his Polytopes, Diatope and Myc&egravenes alpha.
Even though the use of all mathematical theories, which is a method for Xenakis to avoid putting emotion in his music, it definitely is music with beauty, power and character. The brutal sound-blocks of Cendr&eacutees and Nomos Gamma, the sweeping rhythms of Psappha and Kottos and the screaming glissandi of Metastasis and Mikka S nevertheless bear emotions that grow on further listening. It definitely isn't easy music, but being a world in itself, it is extremely rewarding.

1958 - Philips Pavilion Poème Electronique, by Le Corbusier, Iannis Xenakis, and Edgar Varèse

Philips Industries commissioned Le Corbusier to build their pavilion for the 1958 World's Fair to be a showcase of their technology. Iannis Xenakis was working for Le Corbusier at the time and ended up designing the building as well as writing music for some of the spaces (Concret P.H.. Le Corbusier designed the visuals for the inside and chose Edgar Varèse to create the music for the main space. It was an extremely complex installation with 350 speakers, all sorts of lights, slide and film projectors, sculpture and more. Xenakis' music and architecture was heavily based on mathematics, especially hyperbolic paraboloid shapes. Edgar Varèse worked in Philips then new sound studio in Eindhoven with two full-time technitions to create the main musical piece. Le Corbusier worked with his firm to create the visuals.

>> Edward Ihnatovicz, "Senster", 1970

from: http://www.senster.com/ihnatowicz/senster/index.htm

"The Senster, commissioned by the electronics giant, Philips, for their permanent showplace, the Evoluon, in Eindhoven, was a much bigger and more ambitious piece of work than SAM. In addition to responding to people's voices, the Senster also responded to their movements, which it detected by means of radar, and was (as far as I know) the first robotic sculpture to be controlled by a computer. It was unveiled in 1970 and remained on permanent show until 1974 when it was dismantled.

Its size - it was over 15 feet (4 m) long and could reach as high into the air - made the use of aluminium castings inappropriate, so it was welded out of steel tubing, with the castings employed only in the more intricate microphone positioning mechanism. Its behaviour, controlled by a computer, was much more subtle than SAM's but still fairly simple. The microphones would locate the direction of any predominant sound and home in on it, rather like SAM but much more efficiently, and the rest of the structure would follow them in stages if the sound persisted. Sudden movements or loud noises would make it shy away. The complicated acoustics of the hall and the completely unpredictable behaviour of the public made the Senster's movements seem a lot more sophisticated than they actually were. It soon became obvious that it was that behaviour and not anything in its appearance which was responsble for the impact which the Senster undoubtedly had on the audience."

--> compare it to Ken Rinaldo's "Autopoiesis", 2001
--> compare it to Theo Jansen's "Strandbeest"
--> compare it to "Gsellmann's Worldmachine"

>> Gordon Pask

"The Colloquy of Mobiles" was exhibited at the Cybernetic Serendipity exhibition in 1968. It consisted of five mobile, three female and two male, that were hanging from the ceiling and trying to mate with each other by reacting to stimuli of light and sound. The audience could interfere in that process by using flashlights and mirrors. "The Colloquy of Mobiles" can therefor be considered a technical as well as a social system.

"With this installation, Pask brought to a conclusion his idea for an «aesthetic potential environment»", Margit Rosen writes on mediaartnet. "After a phase of inactivity, the females (made of fiberglass) began to glow more intensely and the three males emitted a ray of light. When the ray of light struck the mirror inside the female mobile’s structure, by way of rotating the mirror, she tried deflecting the ray back at the free-hanging light sensors above and below the male’s aluminum body. The goal of communicating was to achieve this moment of satisfaction, and the mobiles learned to optimize their behavior to the point where this state could be reached with the least possible use of energy."

The technical description, also from mediaartnet:
"The installation covered a surface of 5 x 4 meters and consisted of five mobiles, each suspended at a height of 3,75 meters from the floor. This allowed the visitors to move between the hanging mobiles. The installation was conceived for dark lighting conditions. The mobiles rotated on their own axis. In addition, the males were attached to the end of a rotating rod—forcing them to coordinate their behavior. The females, encased in a three-part, shell-like fiberglass covering, were able to make 180-degree swinging motions, either up or down. The males consisted of an aluminum cube outfitted with a car’s headlight on a dimmer. The small, free-hanging plates with light sensors hung above and below the cube. Both the female and male mobiles were equipped with a loudspeaker and microphone for making and registering «hooting»noises. The mobiles contained no controlling devices. Cables inserted in the ceiling led to the control unit of a special purpose computer. The program’s hardware, implemented with electromagnetic relays, combined analog and digital computer technologies."

In "A comment on the cybernetic psychology of pleasure" Pask describes the the motivation of the system to interact:
With all this in view, it is worth considering the properties of aesthetically potent environments, that is, of environments designed to encourage or foster the type of interaction which is (by hypothesis) pleasurable. It is clear that an aesthetically potent environment should have the following attributes:
  1. It must have sufficient variety to provide the potentially controllable novelty required by a man (however, it not swamp him with variety - if it did, the environment would merely be unintelligible).
  2. It must contain forms that a man can interpret or learn to interpret at various levels of abstraction.
  3. It must provide cues or tacitly stated instructions to guide the learning and abstractive process.
  4. It may, in addition, respond to a man, engage him in conversation and adapt its characteristics to the prevailing mode of discourse."

This is the mastershot of the installation. More can be seen in the close-up version.

>> Jack Burnham

>> Cybernetic Serendipity, ICA London, August 2nd - October 20th, 1968

from the press release of the exhibition:
"«Cybernetics - derives from the Greek «kybernetes» meaning «steersman»; our word «governor» comes from the Latin version of the same word. The term cybernetics was first used by Norbert Wiener around 1948. In 1948 his book
«Cybernetics» was subtitled «communication and control in animal and machine.» The term today refers to systems of communication and control in complex electronic devices like computers, which have very definite similarities with the processes of communication and control in the human nervous system. A cybernetic device responds to stimulus from outside and in turn affects external environment, like a thermostat which responds to the coldness of a room by switching on the heating and thereby altering the temperature. This process is called feedback. Exhibits in the show are either produced with a cybernetic device (computer) or are cybernetic devices in themselves. They react to something in the environment, either human or machine, and in response produce either sound, light or movement. Serendipity – was coined by Horace Walpole in 1754. There was a legend about three princes of Serendip (old name for Ceylon) who used to travel throughout the world and whatever was their aim or whatever they looked for, they always found something very much better. Walpole used the term serendipity to describe the faculty of making happy chance discoveries. Through the use of cybernetic devides to make graphics, film and poems, as well as other randomising machines which interactc with the spectator, many happy discoveries were made. Hence the title of this show.» London 1968

from mediaartnet:
Statement by the curator, Jasia Reichardt: «One of the journals dealing with the Computer and the Arts in the mid-sixties, was Computers and the Humanities. In September 1967, Leslie Mezei of the University of Toronto, opened his article on «Computers and the Visual Arts» in the September issue, as follows: «Although there is much interest in applying the computer to various areas of the visual arts, few real accomplishments have been recorded so far. Two of the causes for this lack of progress are technical difficulty of processing two-dimensional images and the complexity and expense of the equipment and the software. Still the current explosive growth in computer graphics and automatic picture processing technology are likely to have dramatic ef
fects in this area in the next few years.» The development of picture processing technology took longer than Mezei had anticipated, partly because both the hardware and the software continued to be expensive. He also pointed out that most of the pictures in existence in 1967 were produced mainly as a hobby and he discussed the work of Michael Noll, Charles Csuri, Jack Citron, Frieder Nake, Georg Nees, and H.P. Paterson. All these names are familiar to us today as the pioneers of computer art history. Mezei himself too was a computer artist and produced series of images using maple leaf design and other national Canadian themes. Most of the computer art in 1967 was made with mechanical computer plotters, on CRT displays with a light pen or from scanned photographs. Mathematical equations that produced curves, lines or dots, and techniques to introduce randomness, all played their part in those early pictures. Art made with these techniques was instantaneously recognisable as having been produced either by mechanical means or with a program. It didn't actually look as if it had been done by hand. Then, and even now, most art made with the computer carries an indelible computer signature. The possibility of computer poetry and art was first mentioned in 1949. By the beginning of the 1950s it was a topic of conversation at universities and scientific establishments, and by the time computer graphics arrived on the scene, the artists were scientists, engineers, architects. Computer graphics were exhibited for the first time in 1965 in Germany and in America. 1965 was also the year when plans were laid for a show that later came to be called «Cybernetic Serendipity,» and presented at the ICA in London in 1968. It was the first exhibition to attempt to demonstrate all aspects of computer-aided creative activity: art, music, poetry, dance, sculpture, animation. The principal idea was to examine the role of cybernetics in contemporary arts. The exhibition included robots, poetry, music and painting machines, as well as all sorts of works where chance was an important ingredient. It was an intellectual exercise that became a spectacular exhibition in the summer of 1968." Jasia Reichardt, London 2005

from "Cybernetic Serendipity Revisited" by Brent MacGregor:
"Jasia Reichardt was Associate Director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, when, as a result of organizing an exhibition on concrete poetry, she met Max Bense whose inspired words to her in 1965 were ‘look into computers’. Through various periodicals such as Data Systems and Computers and Automation (and their annual computer art competition), she made contact with Michael Noll of Bell Telephone Labs. These two contacts in Europe
and America and the computer Technique Group in Tokyo led her into new networks. After a substantial period of research, the ICA held a press conference in December of 1966, announcing the exhibition and commencing the process of fund raising. Supported by the Rt. Hon. Anthony Wedgewood Benn, Minister for Technology, letters went out to over 200 appropriate firms seeking support. This futile search for sponsors led to some of the tight fisted corporations being named and shamed later at the exhibition press launch. Only IBM helped with significant contributions in kind without which the exhibition would have not gone ahead. In all £20,000 was raised with the Arts Council providing £5000 and the US State Department coming up with a travel grant to support a research visit to New York. The scale of the project can be compared to the contemporary Matisse exhibition at London’s Hayward Gallery which cost £60,000. The exhibition was advertised at selected sites in the London underground (subway).

These ranged from corporate giants such as IBM, Boeing, General Motors, Westinghouse, Calcomp, major research institutes such as Bell Telephone Labs and US Airforce Research Labs. There were the ‘founding fathers’: Charles Csuri, Charles [hic! should be Gordon] Pask, Frieder Nake, Michael Noll, John Whitney, Edward Ihnatowicz, the Computer Technique Group, Tokyo (a list in no particular order and not exhaustive). These creators from various backgrounds who
were using computers in exciting new ways were joined by ‘traditional’ (non digital) contemporary artists who worked with machines and whose work would already have been seen in various gallery contexts. These artists included Bruce Lacey (photographed at the opening with Princess Margaret), Naim June Paik, Roger Dainton, Tsai Wen Ying, Jean Tinquely, and James Seawright. Lowell Nesbitt’s paintings of computers were also shown. There was the work of avantgarde musicians such as John Cage, Iannis Xenakis and Peter
Zinovieff and poetry including Edwin Morgan’s Computer’s first Christmas card. Films by Kenneth Knowlton, Michael Noll, Nicholas Negroponte and John Whitney among others were shown in a specially build viewing area. Finally the status of the event was such that Umberto Eco came from Italy to view its wonders.

As clearly stated in the exhibition Cybernetic Serendipity, was organised in three sections:
• computer generated work
• cybernetic devices-robots, painting machines
• machines demonstrating use of computers/history of cybernetics
It aim was clear: ‘. . . dealing with an exploratory field, all attempts at a historical perspective or firm evaluation were out of place. The exhibition and this record, therefore, are essentially a reportage of current trends and developments’ [7].
Quite sensibly the exhibition did not tear machine assisted creative work from its context and contemporary work which was not made in any way by machine was included. For example, Bridget Riley's geometric work was exhibited alongside similar computer generated work. Equally the contemporary avant-garde music on the exhibition record included work which was, for the most part, produced in nondigital ways but which helped to set the context for the computer generated work. Also it is important to note that a wide range of disciplines were represented in the exhibition, not just the visual arts. Poetry, music, dance, film and animation work with a technological dimension were all shown.
The much quoted and consulted publication is not, as is so often assumed, a catalogue of the exhibition, but rather a publication to coincide with the show. Many of the machines and some of the works displayed or referred to in the publication were not actually in the ICA show. which was nevertheless described as ‘a gallery full of tame wonders which look as if they’ve come straight out of a science
museum for the year 2000’ [8].

Cybernetic Serendipity has a reputation as being the first computer art exhibition. It was not. There had been computer art exhibitions earlier in Germany and America. More crucially perhaps, Cybernetic Serendipity was, just as its title suggests, about cybernetics - ‘control and communication in the animal and machine’ [9] rather than exclusively concerning itself with computer generated work. The stated aim of the exhibition was to explore ‘the relationships between technology and creativity’ [10]. While clearly
centering on computers for publicity (and fund raising) purposes, there were only two digital machines in the exhibition and much of the work was produced using analogue technology. Of the two computers on show at the opening, one had nothing to do with creative work. This was an airline reservation system provided by IBM (the only industrial sponsor of some 200 approached to make any kind of contribution). The second, used by Peter Zinovieff to
compose music was removed for use by the composer for his continued use. The robotic devices in the exhibition which were a big hit with critics and the public alike were not digitally enabled.

‘one can foresee the day when computers will replace railway trains and airliners as the cult symbols of the under twelve’s’ [11].
‘Cybernetic Serendipity deals with possibilities rather than achievements, and in this sense it is prematurely optimistic. There are no heroic claims to be made because computers have so far neither revolutionized music, nor art, nor poetry, in the same way that they have revolutionized science’ [12].
‘The computer is only a tool which, at the moment, still seems far removed from those polemic preoccupations which concern art. . . . The possibilities inherent in the computer as a creative tool will do little to change those idioms of art which rely primarily on the dialogue between the artist, his ideas and the canvas. They will, however, increase the scope of the art and contribute to its diversity’ [13].
These observations, made by curator Jasia Reichardt were, and remain, remarkably insightful, standing the test of time. The exhibitors were a mixture of artists and scientistengineers experimenting in a way not possible today. Whereas in 1968 scientists, engineers and artist all had to write software to produce work, today artists can use digital tools without needing coding skills. Teams of artists and engineers are less likely to exist today. Equally engineers and software developers are also less likely to experiment with artistic output.

--> what do you think about the last highlighted paragraph?, is the computer just a tool?

article in Time magazine from October 1968:

>> Vladimir Bonacic

text by Darko Fritz:
Darko Fritz also published an article about Bonacic in Leonardo magazine #41, 01/2008

"Vladimir Bonacic worked in the Croatian National Research Institute Ruder Boskovic in Zagreb from 1964, where he headed the Laboratory of Cybernetics from 1969 to 1973. He earned his PhD in 1967 in the field of pattern recognition and hidden data structures. In 1968 he began his artistic career under the auspices of the international movement New Tendencies (NT), at the Gallery for Contemporary Art of Zagreb, which had pushed for his inclusion. [1] From 1961 on the movement had been presenting different aspects of lumino-kinetic and neo-constructivist art. [2] The statement of the Brazilian artist Waldemar Cordeiro that computer art had replaced constructivist art [3] found its proof in work by Bonacic. Looking back at the crisis of neo-constructivist art that NT faced in 1965, one of the curators, Radoslav Putar, wrote in 1970, "many followers of the NT have tried to give their work the habits of the machine or else they have based their procedures on the use of mechanical or electric devices; they have all dreamt of the machines - and now the machines have arrived. And they have arrived from a direction which was somewhat unexpected, and accompanied by people who were neither painters nor sculptors." [4] From the start Bonacic had a critical view on the use of the computer in art for the simulation of reality. He also criticized Michael Noll's experiment with a Mondrian-like drawing that he had generated by a computer simulation. He said: "The computer must not remain simply as a tool for the simulation of what exists in a new form. It should not be used to paint in the way Mondrian did or to compose music as Beethoven did. The computer gives us a new substance, it uncovers a new world before our eyes. In that world after so long a time scientists and artists will meet again on common ground stimulated by their common desire for knowledge." [5]

In contradicting Bonacic's wishes from 1969, computer art pursued a different way. Computer graphics explored the possibilities of computer-generated figurative visuals and entered - with animation and special effects for the mainstream film industry - the commercial world as well as the military sector, advancing the virtual-reality techniques that mimic "real life". This development led to computer art's exclusion from the contemporary art scene around the mid 1970's. [6] Yet Bonacic was one of the artists who found a way to use computers and cybernetic art for humanistic purposes [7]. It took about 20 years before computer-based art found its place again in the contemporary art scene within a new geo-political situation and cultural climate.

Vladimir Bonacic began his artistic career through a collaboration with the artist Ivan Picelj in 1968. It resulted in the electronic object T4 , which was presented in 1969. The title T4 referred to the Tendencies 4 event series. The upper part of the front panel made of small lamps is static and displays the signs "t4t4t". The rest of the panel lights up following a pseudo-random program. [8] During Tendencies 4 Bonacic was not only showing T4 but a total of 17 works [9] and was awarded one of the prizes for "computer and visual research". [10] The jury appreciated "the harmony between the mathematical consequences within the programming and the visualizing of the process resulting from the programming. We praise especially Bonacic's new approach entailing the solving of problems by including a picture and not a number as a parameter, rendering possible thereby a solution of much more complicated problems." [11] The "Galois field," named for mathematician Evariste Galois, was an overall inspiration to Bonacic. In 1974 he wrote, "One of the most interesting aspects of this work [in Galois fields] is the demonstration of the different visual appearance of the patterns resulting from the polynomials that had not been noted before by mathematicians who have studied Galois fields." [12]

GF.E 16/4
(1969 - 1970)
Vladimir Bonacic: DIN. GF100 V.B., 1969; Stahl, Glas, Elektronik, 135 x 152,5 x 25 cm, Programmentwicklung: SDS 930, Muzej Suvremene Umjetnosti Zagreb, © Dunja Donassy-Bonacic)

Bonacic used custom-made hardware for all his "dynamic objects". They were embodied statements of what he later elaborated on in his critique of the influence on the computer-based arts of commercially available display equipment. [13] The dynamic Object G.F.E 32-S (1969 - 1970) [14] generates four consecutive symmetrical patterns. The screen consists of 1,024 white light pixels. The field generator is part of a special-purpose computer located inside the object. The unit is self-contained and performs the generation of the Galois fields. The clock that controls the rhythm of the appearance of the visual patterns is variable and can be adjusted by the observer between 0.1 seconds and 5 seconds. At a frequency range of 2 seconds the same pattern will repeat itself in approximately 274 years. On the rear of the object the observer finds "manual controls to start, stop and control for the selecting or reading out of any patterns. With binary notation, 32 light indicators and 32 push buttons enable any pattern from the sequence to be read or set." [15] From our contemporary perspective we see in this work an example of a pioneering use of interactivity in computer-based artworks. From 1969 to 1971 Bonacic developed a higher level of interactivityin the work GF.E (16,4), [16] The field of the interaction extends from the sole object, as was the case with the object G.F.E 32-S [17]. The dynamic object GF.E (16,4) is 178 x 178 x 20 cm in size and half a ton in weight. The front panel shows a relief structure made of 1,024 light fields in 16 colors. Three Galois field generators are in operation to light the grid in different patterns. Those generators interact with other generators controlling the sound played out through four loudspeakers. The viewer can influence both sound and image either manually or by remote control. Sound can be manipulated by the exclusion of some tones. The speed of the visual can be adjusted as well, by looping the selected sequences. The observer cannot change the logic. The entire "composition" of this audio-visual spectacle, which consists of 1,048,576 different visual patterns and 64 sound oscillators, can be played within 6 seconds, or with a duration of 24 days [18].

DIN. PR 18, 1969, Kvaternik Square, Zagreb DIN. PR 18, detail DIN. PR 10, 1971, Ilica, Zagreb DIN. PR 18, 1971, Kvaternik Square, Zagreb

Vladimir Bonacic explored interactivity on a social level, too, installing computer-based works in public spaces. In 1969 the large-scale public installation DIN. PR18 was set up on the facade of the NAMA department store on Kvaternik square in Zagreb. At that time the square was rather dark with little lighting, so the installation acted also as an additional illumination[19]. Other public installations were set up in 1971 on the NAMA store on Ilica street in the very center of Zagreb and in Belgrade on the façade of the Museum of Contemporary Art [20].

Bonacic criticized the use of randomness in computer-based art, as he considers humans to be simply better in "making the 'aesthetic program' relevant for human beings". Referring to the dictum of Abraham Moles that redundancy makes structure at the expense of originality, Bonacic wrote: "Observing the qualitative relation for the aesthetic measure, we come to conclude that the maximal originality (namely, disorder created by random selection of symbols) brings immense aesthetic values. Let us suppose we have created the program in some other way but still it is the program that will result in an aesthetic object. Using the random generator we shall carry on with random distribution of the existent information. While consistent in use of the random generator, we speak of 'maximal originality,' no matter what the results of the program might be. The random generator creates the accidental and unique presentation, which has neither value nor importance for human beings. Such information can evoke various associations in the observer. But a computer used in such a way lags far behind the human being. Even if the expressive potentialities of the computer were equal to those of a human being, the essence of Pollock's world and creation would not be surpassed, regardless of the complexity of future computers or peripheral units. That, of course, does not mean that a man (or a monkey or other animal) aided by a computer could not create an aesthetically relevant object if they consciously or unconsciously act obeying the law of accident." [21]

This critique inspired the creation of the object Random 63 in 1969 making use of 63 independent true random generators based on the performances of electronic bulbs. This is the only piece by VladimirBonacic that makes use of true randomness and can lead us to a mere aesthetic enjoyment. All other "dynamic objects" by Bonacic utilize pseudo-randomness, which in principle allows observation of mathematical laws.

Bonacic was skeptical about the applicability of information theory to aesthetics, since it takes so little account of semantics. But he approached visual phenomena in a mathematical and systematic way. [22] The "scientification of art" theoretically elaborated on by Matko Mestrovic within the frame of NT [23] finds its mirror image in Bonacic's working process as the "aesthetization of science". It seems that Bonacic's work fulfills Mestrovic's idea from 1963, that "in order to enrich that which is human, art must start to penetrate the extra-poetic and the extra-human". [24]"

--> compare to blinkenlights and clickscape

>> [Nove] Tendencije, BIT international

text from ZKM website to the current exhibition of "[Nove] tendencije - Computer and visual research, Zagreb, 1961 - 1973":

"With the present exhibition the ZKM | Karlsruhe dedicates itself to the most important international artistic currents of the 1960s, the New Tendencies, and their significance for the history of computer-based art. In 1968 the movement decided to incorporate into its program the computer as a medium of artistic work so as to thereby assert its avantgarde claim and to contribute to the definition of a technology which, as one quite rightly presumed, would define the future of civilization.

Commencing with an exhibition of Concrete and Constructive Art, Nove tendencije, in Zagreb, in 1961, the New Tendencies rapidly developed into a dynamic movement dedicated to 'visual research'. Around the mid 1960s, the New Tendencies triggered an international Op-Art-Boom, which was endorsed by participation in an exhibition entitled The Responsive Eye, at the New York MoMA, in 1965. However, success brought the New Tendencies no closer to its aims: the assertion of 'art as research' and the establishment of new forms of distribution beyond the art market, which should be accessible to everyman. The organizers of the New Tendencies decided to bring their strategy up-to-date and, in the summer of 1968, initiated in the context of the fourth exhibition, Tendencije 4, the program 'Computer and Visual Research'. Until 1973 the supporting institution of the New Tendencies, the former Gallery of Contemporary Art Zagreb – today the Museum of Contemporary Art – had dedicated itself to artistic research by computer with a series of international exhibitions and symposia. At the peak of the Cold War artists and scientists throughout the world presented their work in Zagreb. The New Tendencies thus established a unique platform for the exchange of ideas and experiences from the area of art, the natural sciences and engineering. With the multi-lingual journal Bit international (1968-73, 9 numbers) Zagreb became a point of initiation for aesthetics and media-theoretical thought.

The organizers of the Zabrab Tendencies initially sought to consciously accompany and form the historical transition in which the computer was perceived as medium of artistic creation. They set computer generated works in relation to Constructive and Kinetic Art (1968/69) and to Concept Art (1973). The arts of the electronic media were not considered as an isolated phenomenon but rather incorporated into the history and discourse of fine-and performing arts. ZKM is comitted to this principle and initiated an exhibition series in the Media Museum that started with The Algorithmic Revolution (2004) and is now be persued with Bit International."

The exhibiton at ZKM is running from 23/02/2008 - 22/02/2009
more information: http://www02.zkm.de/bit/

from Mute Magazine, October 2007:
Lidija Merenik, Before the Art of New Media

The restaging of Tendencies 4, the 1968 Zagreb based exhibition series and colloquium, in the recent show bit international – [New] Tendencies – Computers and Visual Research does more than deepen and internationalise our understanding of computer art’s early history. It also presents an opportunity to revisit the cultural landscape of Tito’s Yugoslavia. Here Lidija Merenik considers the show in Graz and [New] Tendencies’ unique engagement with international avant-gardist concerns, technology’s utopian potential and the socialist cultural landscape of ex-Yugoslavia

Even though they have been reviewed extensively in historiographic terms, primarily in the work of Professor Jerko Denegri, [New] Tendencies were the subject of their first serious retrospective: bit international – [New] Tendencies – Computers and Visual Research at the Neue Galerie am Landesmuseum Joanneum in Graz this summer.[1] Curated by Darko Fritz, the show was comprehensively prepared in cooperation with the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb,[2] which possesses a major collection of [New] Tendencies works, and the Neue Galerie in Graz. Like all pioneering projects, this exhibition comprehensively follows the genesis of [New] Tendencies, offering a lot of art works rarely seen or not exhibited until now. The curatorial rationale lies, it seems, not only in the need to mount a ‘pioneering’ retrospective, but also in the actual logic of the progressive developmental phases of [New] Tendencies. Without the representation of its early stages, it would be impossible to understand the group’s ultimate achievement – its movement towards computer art and its final exhibitions in 1968/69 and 1973.

However, it must be said that the importance of this exhibition lies not only in its comprehensive approach – which sheds light on a little known phase of a strong international movement of post-war avant-garde – but also in its highlighting of a unique moment of artistic, ideological and ethical opposition to the ‘liberalised’ modern art of Tito’s Yugoslavia. Indeed it provides us with insight into [New] Tendencies as a sort of [un?]proclaimed ‘dissident’ art of the socialist era.

Knifer, untitled 1978
Julije Knifer: Untitled, 1978

The genesis of NT begins with the first exhibition, held in 1961, which coincided, in terms of time but not language, with the European post-art informel situation. The ultimate aim of the 1961 project, on the international not local level, was to transcend, through a pronounced emphasis on discontinuity, the crisis of art in the process of ‘overcoming informel’ and to establish a different artistic philosophy and ideology. The first exhibition was revolutionary in every respect, and is as important as the exhibitions Monochrome Malerei (1960), held in Leverkusen, and Bewagen-Bewegung (1961), held in Amsterdam, in the sense of a shift from painting towards object, or as a shift from art towards science and new technologies (in an essentially synchronous connection with Arte programmata e cinetica (Programme and Kinetic Art). Hence we perceive a succession of apparently heterogeneous concepts, from Piero Manzoni, through Piero Dorazio and François Morellet, to Julije Knifer and Ivan Picelj, which were unified, however, through the idea of the need to create, as stated by Morellet, ‘a revolution in art that will be equally great as the one in the sphere of science’. It is clear that this first segment of development contains the seed of the future kinetic, and subsequently, computer art, but it is not differentiated in this respect and is primarily founded on various notions of the spiritual and the experimental circulating in the early ’60s and underlined by this exhibition underlines. The ensuing [New] Tendencies exhibitions (1963, 1965) mark one progressive development path of not only the Croatian but also the European avant-garde as well, aspiring to create a great international movement.

In the course of this process, the actual artistic ideology of the artists gathered around [New] Tendencies was defined: team artistic work, the grand entry of science into art, a pronounced anti-commercial attitude, exploring new artistic values, visions, if not utopias, about art – as Meštrović states, needing to be ‘an entirely sober, aware and precise voice of the emerging world’. In the catalogue of the second (1963) exhibition, Getulio Alviani wrote: ‘convention has always been very important in history, and it (convention) should be abolished.’ In this respect, [New] Tendencies are indeed a form of concrete utopia, for they argue in favour of the realisation of the ‘constructivist project’ in the society of the 1960s, which was obviously moving fast towards uniting science, technology and art, to effect what Miško Šuvaković has called a ‘rationalisation of art through scientific methods and an aesthetisation of science through artistic visualisations.’[3] For, both the second and the third (1965) NT exhibition give priority to experiments with new technical and technological media (for example: Alberto Biasi’s Light Prisms; Grazia Varisco’s Schema Luminoso Variabile; Bridget Riley and Gruppo MID’s work... ). Their ensuing research elaborated on the chromo- and kine-visual which also clearly referenced inherited artistic tendencies such as constructivism, kinetic art, concrete art, fully acknowledging Malevich, Mondrian, Nicholson or Vasarely.

IvanPicelj, [Nove] tendencje 4, 1969
Ivan Picelj: [Nove] tendencije, 1969

A significant turnaround occurred with the symposium and the exhibition entitled NT 4 Computers and Visual Research, (1968/69), whereby [New] Tendencies defined the meaning, ideology and purpose of the experiment they had been running from the very beginning. The period until NT 5 (1973) was almost solely focused on the achievements of computer art. After Tendencies 4 and the first international colloquium [New] Tendencies, and until 1973, when the Tendencies 5 exhibition was held, the above mentioned vision entirely turned not only towards anticipating but also taking some of the first steps in computer art; a dialogue between art and ‘machines’ capable of creative activity.

That same year marked the establishment of bit international, a periodical arguing for a ‘symbiosis of art and machine (computer)’, an organ of ‘information theory, exact aesthetics, design, mass media, visual communications and related disciplines.’ It was certainly a very exclusive periodical, and the only one of its kind in Yugoslavia which, along with texts by Abraham Moles and Max Bense, published papers dealing solely with the relationship between computers and visual experimentation. Evidently, then, in that period the role of computers in the visual media was not the sole issue for [New] Tendencies; it is a radical, and we can now say, premature concept of Gesamtkunstwerk based on a vision of a high-tech world. The Graz exhibition is focused precisely on this, the most revolutionary phase of NT, and effort has been made to present a documentary film about NT 3 and digitally restored audio recordings of four NT symposia held in Zagreb (1968-1973).

At the Graz exhibition my attention was drawn by Vladimir Bonačić’s Computer-Controlled Light Installations (1971). In a photograph depicting Bonačić’s experiment in the centre of Zagreb on the NAMA department store, (NAMA standing for 'narodni magazin’ [people’s store] and representing Yugoslavia’s first well-stocked, Western style socialist department store), one can see a giant billboard placed on the city’s main street. It reads: ‘Citizens, extend a loan for the building of the Zagreb-Split highway.’ Such an almost bizarre combination of avant-garde artistic practice and the environment of socialist-populist self-management was characteristic of art in Tito’s Yugoslavia in general. More precisely, of the period from the political break-up with Stalin in June 1948 to Tito’s death in May 1980, designated as ‘socialist modernism’.

Vladimir Bonacic: DIN. PR 10 [NaMa II], 1971
Vladimir Bonacic: DIN. PR 10 [NaMa II], 1971, computer-controlled dynamic object / light installation at the storefront of NaMa in Zagreb, Ilica Street

On the other hand, two decades separate this work of Bonačić’s from the advent of the seminal Zagreb group EXAT 51, and five decades separate it from the advent of the first international Yugoslav avant-garde movement (then designated as the Zagreb-Belgrade avant-garde), Zenit (1921). Mentioning Zenit and EXAT ’51 now presupposes a necessary understanding of the continuity in the establishment and operation of the few, albeit strong, international avant-garde movements in the former Yugoslav artistic space whose shared point of origin was Zagreb.

We are thus faced with at least two possible levels of reviewing [New] Tendencies. One pertains to the political and culturological climate of Tito’s Yugoslavia and Tito’s ambivalent attitude towards what he called ‘Western tendencies’ in art. The other is the line of continuity of avant-garde movements, so few and far between and so little understood, in ‘the first’ Yugoslavia (the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, 1918-1945) and ‘the second’ (Tito’s Socialist Yugoslavia) alike. Naturally, the last but not least aspect of this is the specific character of the radical modernist expression and avant-garde tendencies occurring in Zagreb after 1951, which were immeasurably different from the modernisms of other Yugoslav cultural centres and divergent from the climate of ‘socialist modernism’, ‘traditional modernism’ and ‘socialist aestheticism’.

How come, then, that ‘socialist modernism’ was the dominant climate of creative work and a cultural policy supported by the regime, one from which [New] Tendencies so greatly differed? Primarily politically motivated, the break-up with socialist realism (which was in full swing from 1945 to 1949/50) in Yugoslav art and the shift towards international modernism would not have been possible (or the process would have unfolded much more slowly and with difficulties, as in the USSR and most Eastern European countries) had it not been for the official break with Stalin, the Comintern, USSR and the Eastern bloc countries in June 1948. An essential factor in this complex history, which cannot be dealt with in any great detail here, was purposeful action in the sphere of culture. Namely, the education of artists from the early ’50s primarily by means of efficiently organised grant schemes directed mainly towards the USA (Fulbright) or Paris. Tito’s policy aimed to shift art to the other side of the ‘Iron Curtain’, to the very heart of the mainstream – abstract expressionism and its affiliated artistic languages.

The early 1950s were also characterised by the beginning of Tito’s policy of ‘sitting on the fence’ between the USA and the USSR (the ‘Western’, capitalist bloc, and the ‘Eastern’, communist bloc), which would intensify after Stalin’s death in 1953. This also marked the beginning of the era of 'socialist modernism'. Even though the Cold War was at its peak then, Yugoslavia solidified its international position, and culture became an important and obvious link with 'capitalist countries', the most visible and symbolic representation of that policy. The regime paid particular attention to various forms of the modernisation of art, for such art, characterised by a changed ideological key, could represent a clear signal to the new ally, the West, not only of a changed semantic landscape but also of the seriousness with which Tito’s regime was undergoing change.

Still, this desirable pro-Western art was subject to certain forms of political control from the shadows. Speaking of the attitude of the state/Party authorities towards the liberalisation of culture, one should have no illusions about their tolerance, and in particular about the possible visual literacy of the Yugoslav politicians of that time. Judging by the views expressed in the course of the 7th Congress of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia we can conclude that, in the 1952-1958 period, the Party’s tolerance of modernist trends was most likely strategic in nature. The Yugoslav situation was unique, 'softer' than in the Soviet Union, especially when the socialist realist dogma was abandoned and new, not so easily discernible and more intelligent criteria were established. As opposed to the Soviet brand of dogmatism, where the bureaucracy ordered artists to do things in a particular manner, in Yugoslavia the political establishment made unofficial agreements with artists or gave recommendations against doing something.

In post-war Yugoslav art, 'socialist' modernism played two historically vital roles. The first one consisted in liberating the fine arts from the direct influence of the Party’s ideology of socialist realism in the period after 1949/50. In this respect, its effect was highly evolutive, visionary and progressive. The second role, under the given political circumstances, had to be shared with the political establishment willy-nilly. Here modernism played the politically useful role of providing an enlightened 'civilisation wrapper'. Socialist 'underdevelopment modernism' unfolded on the loose foundation of a society which, although unprepared and in the midst of its own contradictions, very quickly turned away from real communism and socialist realism towards the acceptance of Western models of living, working and creating. The high modernism of Yugoslav art was a symbol of Tito’s Yugoslavia and a half-real, half-virtual modernisation; it was eventually institutionalised in the sphere of the official Yugoslav culture of enlightened socialism as 'socialist modernism' – a symbol of the new state, just like other inventions including socialist democracy, the self-management system and the non-alignment movement.

It is clear that EXAT ’51 – a group that, today, can be considered the ideological and linguistic precursor of [New] Tendencies – was not built on similar foundations and did not please the Party ideologues who liked 'recommending' an acceptable 'modern' manner of expression. A polemical climate was created as early as 1951/52, mostly to do with EXAT’s activities. Abstract (that is, non-objective) art was sharply criticised, first of all as an art whose 'ideological basis was vague and uninvestigated', as being 'hermetic', and as a consequence of uncritical acceptance of 'foreign' influences (Tito was fond of using the term 'Westernisation'). EXAT was the earliest and the most consistent proponent of the supremacy of abstract art and of a new profile of art and the artist; a synthesis of 'pure' and 'applied' art. Also, it would be more correct to view EXAT as a project or concept of the modernist total work (as evidenced by the Manifesto of 1951) than as a group pursuing a conventional course of artistic action attempting to effect changes within a single area of practice. In this respect, EXAT was a multidisciplinary (‘total’) project. The abolition of the allusive and the associative, as well as the destruction of principles such as the harmony of painted elements in a 'composition' (more precisely, the rejection of the heritage of L’Ecole de Paris and the principle of 'push-and-pull' composition inside the 'frame' unique in ex-Yugoslavia’s modern art), certainly must have disturbed an establishment used to a 'feeling of harmony' and to that 'soft' modernism that provided a warm, conformist shelter through its elegant aesthetisations. In this sense, the advent of EXAT does not only represent a watershed for Croatian art, but a generator of tectonic disturbances on the Yugoslav art scene at large. It is also one of the rare movements that clearly broke with the convention of 'composition', that is, the deeply rooted heritage of French modernism, cultivated to the level of a cult.

Despite the historical classification of EXAT, as well as various subsequent 'new tendencies' in Croatian art, as 'abstract' and 'geometrical', neither the truth about them, nor their essential historical significance, lies in their morphological structure. Their prime significance, I believe, lies in their overall ideological weight and ideas of progress that lift them above the modernisms of their contemporary national culture and, essentially, single them out as strong international avant-garde movements within a primarily European cultural space. Geometry, then, is a tool. Progress, then, is the goal. The 'bit international' concept is actually the only Yugoslav project of yearning for an electronic age, a kind of reverie about the computer as the most perfect, impersonal artist; a wake up call to computer art.

It is therefore the art of its European time, but art outside its socialist Yugoslav time and particularly outside 'socialist modernism' and its status quo aesthetics. I imagine that Tito’s diatribes 'against abstraction' (1963, 1964, 1966) may have been provoked by works that irritated him, such as Knifer’s Meander (the Graz exhibition shows a historical specimen dating from 1960, when Knifer 'invented' the Meander), or works by Picelj, Aleksandar Srnec, Vjenceslav Rihter, Vojin Bakić and Vlado Kristl dating from the late 1950s or the first half of the 1960s. Judging by some of Tito’s speeches (which, however, had no political consequences for the artists concerned due to the image of tolerance the Party was cultivating), this is quite certain. Excerpts from various speeches he delivered in the course of 1963 clearly show a considerable degree of ambivalence, if not the outright schizophrenic nature of the above-mentioned 'sitting on the fence':

[...] In literature especially, and in art generally, there are a lot of foreign elements, irreconcilable with our socialist ethics, something that is attempting to divert the course of our development from the one determined by our revolution. These are various decadent phenomena, brought in from abroad. We must fight against them; however, we must do it not always by resorting to administrative measures but through political action. [...] I am not against creative searching for the new [...] but I am against spending our community’s funds on some so-called modernist works that have nothing whatsoever in common with artistic creation [...]. [4]

Also, it is clear today that, as Professor Denegri remarks, EXAT was better known outside Yugoslavia, so that no particular echo of these innovative initiatives was felt inside the country, not even in Zagreb itself. However, the situation changed with the first [New] Tendencies exhibition, the groundwork having been laid by people who were aware of EXAT’s contributions and their possible further consequences, such as Vjenceslav Rihter, Radoslav Putar, Božo Bek, Matko Meštrović and others. 'Exatians' also joined [New] Tendencies. Knifer and Kristl, for example, strongly influenced the shaping of the earliest phase of NT, which was founded on various non-gestural, 'pure' and primary, geometrical, visual structures. Picelj, on the other hand, worked on the level of optical, kinetic-visual constructions. Until 1968, that is, when NT entered its most original phase and began gathering around the ideas of bit international, one should not underestimate the impact of EXAT which was much deeper than it initially appears

Even though they were, without doubt, of paramount importance for radical modernism, and outside the context of 'socialist modernism', I dare say that NT achieved their true aim with artists like Vladimir Bonačić. He (otherwise a PhD and an electronics engineer) first hit upon the idea of visually generating the scientific results obtained while working with computers: 'This was’, he said, ’best evidenced when, researching polynomials, we got pictures that also expressed certain aesthetic values'. This paved the way for his creation of the first light-kinetic objects, whose screen displayed a sequence of over 65,000 differently structured visual situations (obtained researching Galois fields). But he did not wish his scientific, visual investigations to be a mere aesthetic object placed on a pedestal in some museum or other. He therefore produced ambient installations or temporary installations in situ (where the architecture of the building was used as a ‘host’ for the computer controlled experiment with light, visible from outside and together comprising a giant ‘sculpture’). in the centre of Zagreb (the NAMA department store and Kreditna banka). These Computer-Controlled Light Installations completely integrated the formal-aesthetic aspects established in the early phase of NT with his scientific, visual and early electronic investigations – a special form of 'electronic iconics' which produced the NT 4 emblem. Bonačić developed this concept further by means of very complex audio-visual and kinetic constructions (GF-4 32/71, 1971, today located in the UNESCO building). Proceeding from his visionary works, authors like Tomislav Mikulić, not being content with the possibilities of computer graphics or objects, arrived at the first Yugoslav computer generated cartoons (Mikulić’s Random, 1976).

Tendencies 5 (1973), even though it was the last exhibition of its kind, opened the door to the coming phenomenon of neoavant-garde, conceptual art (John Baldessari, Giuseppe Penone, Sol LeWitt, Endre Tot, On Kawara, Goran Trbuljak, Braco Dimitrijević, Iannis Kounellis, Giulio Paolini...). As a linguistic and aesthetico-technological art practice, but also as an ideological and ethical construct of sorts, in the period between 1961 and 1973, NT found themselves 'squeezed' in the European cultural space between two dominant artistic poles. They stood in antithesis, on the one hand, to Art Informel, the painting of matter and gesture, and, on the other, to that trend of conceptual art embodied by the Turin Arte Povera circle around 1968, which notionally refused any form of technical, technological craftsmanship or aesthetic determinants. NT were also 'squeezed' in the Yugoslav cultural space between the politically acceptable 'socialist modernism' with its mostly non-experimental models of a work of art, and the radical artistic action and behaviour that appeared in the late 1960s and the early 1970s, gathered around the Belgrade and the Zagreb Students’ Cultural Centres, whose prime exponents were Marina Abramović and Braco Dimitrijević. By the time of Tendencies 5, Belgrade’s Students’ Cultural Centre was already engaging in radical international projects; the Centre was headed by its spiritus movensApril Meetings: concepts, projects, action, creation and conduct that paid no heed to the dead end street of socialist modernist aestheticism and the unbridled era of happy consumption, characteristic of a cushioned, neither-socialist-nor-bourgeois state. Biljana Tomić, one of the greatest Yugoslav gallerists of avant-garde and neoavant-garde movements, educated, small wonder, though the exhibitions and colloquia of Zagreb’s [New] Tendencies. That was how, in symbolic terms, a series of uncompromising artistic concepts came full circle – from Zenit, through EXAT and [New] Tendencies, to Belgrade’s

This invisible line of continuity, which we can understand today owing to post festum insights, including, among other things, the Graz exhibition, could not be as pronounced in the 1970s. Indeed it remained submerged until the mid-1990s, with NT’s efforts languishing in the bywaters of local art the way the avant-garde efforts of ZENIT and EXAT had done before them, and seemed irretrievably lost, first in the inarticulate climate of transavant-garde tendencies of the 1980s, and then in the brutal political and merciless wartime climate of ex-Yugoslavia. A visible inrush of 'new tendencies' into the ex-Yugoslav cultural space occurred in the latter half of the 1990s, owing to the influx of contemporary digital technologies and the possibilities of artistic expression they afforded, conducting the process of artistic creation outside the domain of matter and the material. However, the lines of development of recent art directly connected to digital technology are numerous and conceptually and ideologically diverse in each of the former Yugoslav cultural centres (Zagreb, Ljubljana, Belgrade, Skoplje, Sarajevo, Podgorica), and truly constitute a separate subject for consideration. Let us just add that today, the contemporary artists of ex-Yugoslavia are collecting the shards of that world of concrete utopia, one of the main advocates of which was none other than the [New] Tendencies project.

Lidija Merenik, PhD, is a Professor at the Department of Modern Art History of the Faculty of Philosophy of Belgrade University


[1] J. Denegri, Apstraktna umjetnost u Hrvatskoj 2 [Abstract Art in Croatia 2], Split 1985

[2] Ex-Gallery of Contemporary Art

[3] M. Šuvaković, Pojmovnik moderne i postmoderne likovne umetnosti i teorije posle 1950 [The Terminology of Modern and Postmodern Fine Arts and Theory After 1950], Belgrade 1999

[4] J. B. Tito, Govori i članci [Speeches and Articles], XVIII, Zagreb 1966

Copied from Mute Magazine, published 3 October, 2007

article writen by Armin Medosch (www.thenextlayer.com/node/731,
The Ultimate Avant-garde: New Tendencies and Bit International

"Since more than 10 years the Croatian media artist Darko Fritz has been researching the archives of the Museum for Contemporary Arts Zagreb about the New Tendencies series of exhibitions and events in Zagreb, Ex-Yugoslavia, now Croatia, from 1961 to 1973 and the Bit International journal published by that same art movement.In 2004 this effort was joined by Margit Rosen who works on a dissertation about the beginnings of computer based art. An important role played also Marija Gatting, head of the museum archive, who helped to put together chronologies and identify people. Last year, 2007, an exhibition was shown at Neue Galerie Graz. This show, significantly enlarged, has come now to ZKM Karlsruhe (and is still running till January 2009). For the Graz exhibition a little catalogue came out with contributions by Peter Weibel, Jesa Denegri and Margit Rosen. As I use this catalogue and the direction that the New Tendencies exhibitions and events have taken for a short genealogy of media art which I am currently compiling, I had to summarise and translate those materials, and thought that other researchers might also have an interest in it, so that I publish it here, in the manner of a literature review for others to study it and draw their own conclusions. All translations from German are my translations.


As we are now in an age of the writing and attempted canonisation of media art histories, there is a tendency of closure, of a solidification of a certain discourse. In that discourse very often genealogies are generated in hindsight (cf. for instance Media Art Histories, edt. by Oliver Grau, 2007). I would like to keep things open and resist this tendency to point at the possibility of other readings. Immanent in this question of history writing is the struggle about the definition of media art, which is still an 'unstable' field. The New Tendencies exhibition and publications going with it -- in spring 2009 a large catalog will come out making available some of the original writings -- will present interesting material for scholars to investigate the rise and failure of an 'ultimate avant-garde' (regarding the understanding of this term see below).

Arguably, the New Tendencies series of events between 1961 and 1973 were too early and too decentralised to have had a significant impact on contemporary media art and that of the recent past. The last event in 1973 coincides with the 'implosion' of systems art as described by Charlie Gere in various texts (cf. Gere 2004). The end of the movement and the lack of a direct continuation - the direction that the New Tendencies pursued would only be picked up again in the 1980s by a broader movement of media artists -- may have been intensified by the reluctance of Western media to engage with those artforms and favour other new artforms instead, such as Pop Art and Op Art, which ignored the political ideology which informed the thinking of the group of people behind the New Tendencies.

This tendency to focus on the visual side and the surfaces may have been aggravated by the fact that there seems to have been an ideological power struggle within the art world which mirrored the ideological power struggle between Cold War superpowers and in which the New Tendencies - born on the relatively neutral soil of un-aligned Yugoslavia - found themselves squeezed. Albeit it needs to be immediately added, as the Soviet Union was officially subscribed to Soviet Realism, it did not participate in this power struggle actively. Instead this was a struggle between left-wing artists from various countries who gathered in Yugoslavia and organs of the institutionalised art system intent on suppressing the influence of leftwing post- and neo-constructivism.

Yet despite the undeniable negative effect of such 'external' enemies the movement had also its own troubles. The reading of the materials and the visit of the exhibition exposes, as I will show in my summary, difficult and unresolved issues closely connected to the programmatic of New Tendencies, issues by which the field of media art is still plagued today. I suggest to read the material in this sense as it exposes the problems of media art in an early stage.

1. Kunst als K hoch 8, by Peter Weibel in Bit International. Exhibition Catalogue, Neue Galerie, Graz 2007.(Art as K by the magnitude of 8)

As Peter Weibel writes in his introduction to the exhibition, when contemporary art relaunched itself after 1945, and began to reference sources from before fascism and WWII, at first what was favoured were Abstract Expressionism, Informel and Tachism, 'the expressive and spiritual side of abstraction (Weibel 2007, p. 4). Then Weibel goes on to say that 'the rational branch of constructivism' which according to him had started with the Constructivist Manifesto of 1920 by Naum Gabo and Pevsner (Weibel also cites 'geometric abstraction' as represented by Abstraction-creation: art non-figuratic1932 - 1936) started to be rediscovered in the late 1950s. Important people were Max Bill (who had published the journal abstraktkonkret) and who became the director of the design arts college in Ulm in 1952 and among whose students were Almir Magnavier and where theorists such as Max Bense and Abraham Moles were teaching (Weibel 2007, p. 4)

Almir Magnivier and Matko Mestrovic were among the founders of the New Tendencies 'project'. A strong influence was exerted by groups such as Groupe de Recherche d'Art Visuell (GRAV, 1960 - 1968) who figure promenintly in a number of genealogies (cf. Giannetti 2004) of 'cybernetics' or 'systems art,' as well as 'Gruppo N, MID and T.' (Weibel, op.cit., p. 5)

NOTE: The formation of groups and, in some cases, hiding behind a very abstract group identity seems to have been an important characteristic of those art movements, something that would reappear and reappear in art & technology practices.

Weibel then quotes the Manifesto Stoppt die Kunst (GRAV 1965) (Stop the Art) where a consideration of the participant is demanded.

"We need to find a way out of the deadly end of modern art. If there is a social aspect in modern art it needs to involve the viewer. [...] We would like to attract the attention of the viewer, to make him free and more relaxed. [...] We desire his participation, we would like to bring him into a position which mobilisies him and makes him master of this movement, we want him to agree to play a game [...] we want him to be in mutual exchange with other viewers. We want him to show more perceptive capability and action [...] A viewer who becomes aware of his power and who is tired of so many errors and mystifications, willn be capable of carrying out his own revolution in the arts under the signs of action and collaboration." (GRAV 1965 quoted in Weibel 2007; my translation from German. The German text is not very clear and has grammatic weaknesses; this text originally appeared in connection with the exhibition Labyrinth 3 in New York 1965)

Weibel states that a 'critical rationality' was able to 'reflect art methodically' and therefore started to speak of 'visual research' instead of art. This tendency found expression in shows such as Bewogen Beweging (1961 Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and that same year in Stockholm), Arte Programmata, Arte Kinetica, opera moltiplicata, opera aperta (1962, Milan) and The Responsive Eye (1965, Museum of Modern Art, New York).

'On the occasion of this exhibition the term Op Art was coined. Shows such as The Responsive Eye have had a suffocating rather than an enabling influence on the development of artistic discourse, as the reception which made it successful , ignored core interests of the movement which had gathered around the term New Tendencies.' (Weibel 2007, p. 6)

The concrete and abstract art of the 1950s joined forces, according to Weibel, with cybernetics and information theory (Ibid., p. 6). Naming Umberto Eco, Max Bense and Abraham Moles as important theorists, Weibel says that they

'integrated the semiotic approach of Charles S. Peirce in arts as well as the mathematical theories in information and communication theory developed by the American Claude Shannon and The Russian A.A. Markov based on which new forms of cybernetic art were created for instance by Nicolas Schöffer, and many other medial art forms.' (Ibid., 6)

In Weibel's genealogy what comes next are then the landmark exhibitions 'Information' at the MOMA New York (1970), and 'Software, Information Technology: Its Meaning for Art' (1970) at the Jewish Museum, New York. As he explains, many art works of the New Tendencies in the early 1960s were 'programmed', if not actually in practice then in the way they were conceived, as demonstrated by Karl Gerstner's early book Programme entwerfen (1963) (Ibid., pp. 6 -7). At The New Tendencies III in 1965 a split occured and many artists left the field. In the year 1968 computer scientists joined the New Tendencies IV event, which was reflected in the title 'Computers and Visual Research.' On the occasion of that event also the publication of the quarterly Bit International started which saw 7 editions. The summer of 1968 also saw the exhibition Cybernetic Serendipity in London, curated by Jasia Reichardt, which is also claimed in the genealogies of media art and receives sustained attention. The renewed focus on the 'bit' is given as ecidence by Weibel that

'in 1968 a new epoch has started which is not characterised through the advent of the machine in art, as it was practiced by Tatlin and the constructivists, but which was characterised by the advent of the intelligent, symbol processing machine in the field of art.' (op.cit., p. 7)

According to Weibel thanks to an exact, rational aesthetics whose development in the 1960s can be studied via the New Tendencies 'like under a microscope' eight art movements and their interdependencies become visible: concrete, constructive, kinetic, cybernetic, conceptual, Op Art, concrete poetry and computer art. (Ibid., p. 8) In all cases, Weibel summarises, this is a 'programmed art' in each instance, even if in 'concrete poetry' sometimes no computer is used (Ibid., p. 9)

NOTE: As we will see, the way Weibel constructs this genealogy out of the New Tendencies series of events, is tendentious. First of all, the genealogy is too general and too unifying. Despite the desire of the initiators to form an international art movement, New Tendencies is maybe more a pool where for a certain period in time several art forms came together who actually had internal divisions and different aims and origins. Secondly, Weibel uses this genealogy to construct a teleology: the ultimate destiny of the rational, abstract and exact arts is programmed computer art. Within that he locates already a subthread, the 'interactive' computer art work.

2. Die Bedingungen und Umstände, die den ersten beiden Ausstellungen der Nova Tendencije in Zagreb [1961 - 1963] vorausgingen. Jesa Denegri in Bit International. Exhibition Catalogue, Neue Galerie, Graz 2007. (The conditions and circumstances which existed prior to the first two New Tendencies Exhibitions in 1961 and 1963)

According to Jesa Denegri (2007) there is a continuity between Exat-51, an 'experimental atelier 51' which had existed in Zagreb since 1951 and the New Tendencies. Tito taking Yugoslavia away from the Soviet block also allowed ditching the 'Socialist Realism' dogma (Denegri 2007, 11) Exat-51 based their work on a neo-constructivist philosophy.

'Although they referred to the traditions of Bauhaus, Russian constructivism, and the achievements of the classics of European abstract art, the theoretic contributions of Richter and Rádic, and the works of the painters Picelj, Kristl, Srnec and Rasic represented a big intellectual step for Croatia and the whole Yugoslav artistic culture. At the same time they displayed similarities with parallel movements in Western European art of the 1950s.' (Denegri 2007, 11 - 12)

As some of those parallel developments Denegri names the groups Espace in France, Forma Uno and Movimento Arte Concreta in Italy, the exhibition Salon Realie tes Novelles 1952 in Paris in which Exat-51 took part.

In a lengthy quote from one of the initiators, Almir Mavignier, he describes the origin of the first Nova Tendencije as motivated by the conservative character of the Venice Biennale which did not allow to make new directions in art felt. According to the art historian Marina Viculin the first New Tendecies show is mainly a result of a meeting between Mavignier and the art critic Matko Mestrovic where they discussed the disappointing Venice Biennale. Metkovic then convinced the curator of the Museum for Contemporary Art Bozo Bek to help make it happen. The well travelled Mavignier compiled a long artist list and then through the 'tireless' correspondence of Metkovic, the first show came together.

After an international call, artists sent work to Zagreb. There were paintings but also strange types of 'objects which did not have traditional characteristics of a a sculpture.' Thus, the exhibition was structured as following this tendency 'from painting to the object.' (Ibid., Mavignier quoted by Denegri, p. 13) The title was inspired by a previous exhibition under the title stringenz - nuove tendence tedesche, which had happened in Milan in 1959 at Pagani Gallery. What Mavignier found particularly interesting was that works from artists from very different countries showed similar concerns with 'optical investigations into plane, structure, objecthood'. (Alvir Mavignier, 1970, neue tendenzen I - ein überraschender zufall. In: New Tendencies IV, Katalog. n.p.)

The initiators themselves seemed surprised of the width and depth of those new areas of work which they had discovered, and which to document and inform the public aout in future events they saw as their duty.

Quoting the publication Prospect - Retrospect Europa 1946 - 1976, published in 1976 by Konrad Fischer and Hans Strelow, Denegri sketches the context for this movement. This was constituted by the already mentioned Bewogen Beweging, exhibition at the Stedelijk, the exhibitions Le Noveau Realisme a Paris et a New York, and A 40° au-dessus de Dada, both in Paris, solo exhibitions by Rothko, Pollock, Rauschenberg, Arman, Christo and Tingeluy in a number of cities. Important artists also were the members of the group Zero, Heinz Mack, Otto Piene and Guenter Uecker, who together with Piero Manzoni and Enrico Castellani grouped around Azimuth&Azimut Gallery and magazine in Italy. All of them found themselves later on the list of participants that Mavignier had compiled for New Tendencies. Other artists for that first exhibition were Piero Dorazio, Gerhard von Graevenitz, Julio Le Parc, Joel Stein, Francois Morellet, Gruppo N from Padua and Gruppo T from Milan as well as the Croatian artists Ivan Picelj and Julije Knifer. Denegri summarises that as Informel art lost its momentum at the end of the 1950s, two new movements gathered strength, the new abstraction of the New Tendencies and the figurative trend of Pop Art, both born out of a new 'optimism of generations of younger generations of artists who could enjoy the solidifieing social circumstances in post war Europe.' (Denegri 2007, p. 15)

Participant Morellet expressed his belief that NT earmarked the 'beginning of a revolution in the arts which will be as big as the revolution in science. Therefore rationality and the spirit of systematic research must replace intuitionism and individual expression.' Denegri 2007, p. 16 quoting Morellet)

Another participant, Manfredo Massironi, highlighted the importance of the show for artists. Although of 'limited outreach' in terms of the critical attention it attracted, it was a great opportunity for artists from different countries to find out about the similarities about their work, and 'although it was not clear what it was that they shared it was a very enthusiastic moment.' (Ibid., p. 16 quoting Massironi)

The Parisian group GRAV published a position paper Propositiones Generales in 1961 in which they demanded that 'the audience should be liberated from the restrictions and deformations it had suffered regarding the judgement of art.' (Ibid., p. 17 quoting GRAV)

In another position paper under the title 'Apropos de art spectacle, spectateur actif, instabilite et programmation dans l'art visuel' a member of GRAV, Julio Le Parc, wrote:

'We are confronted with a new situation whose complexity stimulates reflection. Its evolution can also have unclear aspects. It is not about replacing one kind of habit with another one. The role of the work and the role of the viewer have changed. The active participation in the work is more important than contemplation. [...] To the cycle of conception-realisation-visualisation-perception is added modification. This idea leads us to the notion of instability.' (Ibid., Julio Le Parc quoted by Denegri p. 17)

In 1962 in a series of meetings it was tried to define a set of conceptual and ideological requirements which would define the participants list for the following instantiation of the event. The leading role in this was taken by individual members of GRAV and Grupo N as well as Mestrovic. This group tried to formulate stringent criteria for the selection of works to build the foundations of a large international movement. Ironically this led to the exclusion of many artists after New Tendencies II in 1963, many of whom would go on to become quite famous. Among those purged from the movement were Adrian, Boto, Dorazio, Mack, Piene (according to an essay by Valerie L. Hillings Concrete Territorry: Geometric Art, Group Formation and Self-Definition.)

Those splits between artists and the tense atmosphere at NT II resonates in a text of Mestrovic who writes that

'the historic necessity of art lies in its power to infiltrate social structures, to go through social barriers, intellectual habits, routines and all other forms of resistance which come from the unchanged, unreconstructed relationships of the forces of production and their superstructure. Art gets shattered at those obstacles or bounces back, its struggle us futile and it gets defeated if it only stays restricted to imagination and emotions.' (op.cit, p. 19 Denegri quoting Mestrovic)

This crisis would become fully visible at NT III in 1965. The attempt of establishing on an international level a completely new approach to artistic practice showed already signs of failure at NT II, Mestrovic would openly admit in 1965 (Ibid. p 20 Denegri quoting Mestrovic). In a style characterised by Denegri as 'dramatic' Mestrovic describes the reasons for the failure of the New Tendencies, that as a movement it displayed a certain naivity regarding the world political situation, and a 'contamination of practices' by the 'force field of capital'. The title was changed in 1965 from the plural to the singular, thereby admitting that it now as just one tendency among others, Denegri states . (Ibid, pp. 20 - 21) Thus, the New Tendencies had reached their climax already in 1963, the pinnacle of its theoretic formulation and activist and expansionist orientation, Denegri concludes, a movement whose individual standpoints were sometimes extremely doctrinary.' (Ibid., p. 21)

At the Biennale of San Marino participants of New Tendencies received all the main prices, and Argan summarised this work as 'gestalt research' (Ricerca gestaltica - from German 'Gestalt' an expression which found increasing attention in Psychology since the early 1900 and formed the bases of Structuralims, cf. Piaget). In 1964 Nouvelle Tendance was shown at the Museum des Arts Decoratifs in Paris and at the same year NT artists were strongly present at the Biennale of Venice. 'Yet the feeling of triumpf and satisfaction,' Denegri writes, 'was disturbed by the powerful advent of American Neo-Dada and Pop Art [...] as well as a new abstract art (Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, Frank Stella) whose support by the media and the market surpasses everything that had been known before.' (Ibid., p. 22)

The American market then turned its attention to the New Tendencies, and William C. Seitz organised the exhibition the Responsive Eye (1965) 'as a provocative confrontation with already established Op Art' (Ibid., p. 23). This was experienced by European participants as a 'Phyrric victory' or as 'burial ceremony of the first order' (Massironi). At that show, Denegri writes, the movement was robbed off the focus on investigation and research which had been inherited from Russian constructivism and became bar any ideological content, it was reduced to a 'retinal' and 'physiological' interpretation. (Ibid., p. 23 Denegri paraphrasing Massironi)

The New Tendencies in 1965 tried to counter this tendency by focusing on the research character of the works, but even the curator, the designer Enzo Mari, was dissatisfied with the result, admitting that a large part of the exhibited work 'was actually not research but rather the simulation of research or even its commercialisation.' (Ibid., p. 23 Denegri quoting Mari) As leading artists of the New tendencies such as Julio Le Parc received international attention and canonisation as artists, the movement lost its avant-garde character, according to Denegri (Ibid., 24).

Denegri highlights the importance of the theoretic writing of Matko Mestrovic 'written in the sharp tongue of critical and theoretical prose'. (Ibid., p. 27) In "The Ideology of New Tendencies" (Mestrovic 1963) he emphasises the movements recognition of the importance of scientific knowledge, the legacy of Bauhaus, the transformative power of technology and industrialisation and the 'shared and accepted teachings of Marx' which together created 'a constructive approach towards social change and societal problems.' (Ibid., p. 27) Mestrovic understood the New Tendencies as 'a first way of critique of and resistance to mechanisms of corruption and alienation'. He called for the 'demystification of artistic production' and a 'demasking of the influence of the art market' which 'treats art in a contradictory way both as myth and commodity'. The focus was not on individual expression but on 'research' which revealed the 'objective psycho-physical basis of sculptural phenomena' and which opened up the possibility of collective work. The movement also embraced the means of industrial production which should lead to a quicker social dissemination of the works. (Ibid., p. 28 quoting Mestrovic in Mestrovic 1965 n.p.)

The Italian critic Lea Vergine organised in 1983/84 an exhibition with the title "L'ultima avantgardia - Arte programmatica e cinetica 1953 - 1963" with 50 participants from different European countries. New Tendencies was, according to Lea Vergine, the last concerted effort of a large international group of artists who, in collaboration with theorists, tried to achieve a fundamental change in the formulation of the goals of art, change which should also reach to the foundations of society. It was related to the historic avant-garde, especially that of a constructivist nature. Like that movement, it engaged with other disciplines such as design and architecture to gain influence on planning of the environment, and in its ultimate consequence it hoped to alleviate the condition of alienation of human labour as they took as their example the freedom of action and behavior, which characterises the position of politically conscious contemporary artists, Denegri writes. (Ibid., pp 29 - 30) Yet despite those principles, Denegri concludes, the New Tendencies could not stop from being absorbed by the market and the social circumstances which they had hoped to change. (Ibid., p. 30)

3. Die Maschinen sind angekommen: Die Neuen Tendenzen - visuelle Forschung und Computer, by Margit Rosen. In: Bit International. Exhibition Catalogue, Neue Galerie, Graz 2007. (The Machines have arrived: The New Tendencies, visual research and the computer)

In her contribution to the catalogue, Margit Rosen works about the second phase of New Tendencies, when a shift occured and visual research, using the computer, suddenly took centre stage. While New tendencies I, II, and III talked about an 'arte programmata' and various objects were displayed which showed machine like behavior, it was the colloquium under the title The Computer and Visual Research in August 1968 in Zagreb which 'attempted to explore the artistic and social possibilities of a new medium, the symbol processing machine.' (Rosen 2007, p. 32)

The adaptation of the computer is embedded, according to Rosen, 'in the history of a movement which attempted to construct art rationally, to demystificate art and to use the knowledge and processes of the engineering sciences as well as industrial forms of production.' (Ibid., p. 33)

According to Rosen, the critic Boris Kemelen identified three reasons why NT adopted the computer: the crisis of NT which had come with the success 1965, the start of 'visual research' via the computer which manifested itself in two exhibitions, images by Georg Nees at TU Stuttgart and work by Bela Julesz and A Michael Noll in the Howard Wise gallery in NY, and, last not least, the development of an 'information aesthetics' by Max Bense who published 'Aesthetica' (Bense 1965) and the participation of Abraham A. Moles in a working meeting of NT artists in a castle in Croatia. The Yugoslavian curator and art critic Radoslav Putar saw the beginning of a 'new symbiosis with the machine' (Putar 1970, quoted in Rosen 2007). The integration of the computer into NT 4 allowed the organisers, so Rosen, to continuate the ambition to be avant-garde and to undertake 'a new effort of an organised exploration of the unknown' (Rosen 2007, p. 35, quoting Putar 1970). A rather large program committee consisting of old and new members started in 1967 to systematically acquire and analyse all publications about computer art. Then the committe started far reaching international correspondence

'overcoming the communication barriers of the cold war and writing to individuals, universities, companies and government agencies in Western and Southern Europe, the GDR, Polen, Czechoslovakia, Brazil the USA and Japan, inviting them to participate in the activities of the coming years.' (Rosen 2007, p. 36)

Artists presenting computer generated work included Marc Adrian, Kurd Alsleben, Vladimir Bonacic, Charles Csuri, Iroshi Kawano, Leslie Mezei, Peter Milojevic, Frieder Nake, Georg Nees, A. Michael Noll, as well as works by employees of the companies California Computer Products Inc. and Llyoyd Sumner (Ibid., p. 37)

In a symposium in 1969 participated, amongst others, artists and scientists interested in cybernetics such as Herbert W.Franke, Zdenko Sternberg, members of the Art Research Centre, Silvio Ceccato, Jonathan Benthal, Umberto Eco, engineers such as Alfred Grassl and Josef Hermann Stiegler and the Brasilian Valdemar Curdeiro (abbreviated list after Rosen, Ibid., pp 37 - 38)

With the symposium for the first time a new magazine, Bit International, was published.

As Rosen points out, with this new focus on the computer only a few persons from the first three NT events managed to stay on, the theorists Bozo Bek, Boris Kemelen, Matko Mestrovic, Abraham Moles and Radoslav Putar (Ibid p. 39) ... it seemed that artists had more problems keeping up than theorists, because from the original NT 1 exhibition in 1961 only Marc Adrian, Ivan Picelj and Zdenek Sykora remained. Picelj produced in collaboration with Vladimir Bonacic the random light object t4, but did not continue this line of work. The artist Alberto Biasi criticised that mathematicians, phycisians, computer scientists were suddenly taking taking centre stage. According to Rosen, frieder Nake countered that'on one hand the artists did not know how to go further while scientists tried to get into art'. (Ibid., p. 39, Nake quoted by Rosen)

Rosen emphasises the focus of NT on research, on the intersubjective methodlogies of science, on an art as research which looks for solutions outside, not in the internal world. The works were results of an ongoing research which took the burden of creating 'masterpieces' from the shoulders of the young genre. (Ibid., pp 40 - 41)

Yet this created also problems. While the gesture of the individual artist genius was avoided the works mainly demonstrated 'the possibilities of the new medium' (Ibid., p. 41 my emphasis) The artists admitted in internal discussions that the lofty programmatic goals were not always met and that the artistic 'research' remained far behind the work of the specialists (Ibid., p. 41, Davide Boriani, Gruppo T, quoted by Rosen) However, in comparison to the much lauded exhibition Cybernetic Serendipity curated by Jasia Reichart at the ICA in London 1968, the program of NT was much more ambitious in terms of facilitating an international and organised research process, writes Rosen. (Ibid., p. 41)

On one hand NT4 saw itself as continuation of an 'arte programmata', a rules based art form which had been topic of pre-computer NT events. What was new was the focus on the artist as programmer and the program as an artwork. In this regard the organisers and theorists such as Vjenceslav Richter bordered on the doctrinal when he stated, as quoted by Rosen, that those artists incapable of formulating their ideas would be left behind in history (Ibid., p. 44). Yet two years later already, so Rosen, Abraham A. Moles criticised that 'through the computer artist a new kind of myth of the unintelligible had entered the discourse, which led to the remystification of the art. (Ibid., p. 44 Moles quoted by Rosen)'

As Rosen reflects, the focus on the computer marked a break. The earlier New Tendencies shows from 1961, 1963, 1965, already were an 'arte programmata' in a specific sense, (I would say a special case of Eco's 'open' artwork), what was presented were various types of open artworks, based on kinetic and variable objects, and 'ambiente', works based on probabilistic behaviour in rule based 'fields' of potentiality where new types of viewer-participation were explored. Yet the exhibitions visual research and the computer in 1968/1969 showed various types of drawings, plots and models, and was very much a paradigm based on production, not on further explorations of viewer participation. (Ibid., p. 47)

Misunderstandings also occured between the goals of an information aesthetics as formulated by Bense and Moles, who focused on the role of the computer as a means of analysis and creation of art, and the intentions of the organisers who hoped to gain important information about perception and objective criteria for art critcism through the computer (Ibid., p. 47)

Yet this endeavor ran immedeately into problems. The exhibition in 1969 was based on a competition. The jury, consisting of Umberto Eco, Karl Gerstner, Vera Horvat-Pintaric, Boris Kemelen and Martin Krampen argued that because of the experimental nature and the still completely open field no general criteria of judgement could be formulated. The jury was against using judgements based on traditional parameters (Rosen paraphrasing PL 13 of NT 4)

This resulted in the jury giving special praise to works of employees of Boeing Computer Graphics, Bellevue, for their wireframe diagrams of machines and humans, as well as single frames of landing manouvres. Also participating were the scientists from Bell Labs, Leon D Harmon, Kenneth C Knowlton and Manfred Schroeder, who alse received special praise for technological excellency. The deepest impression on the jury, Rosen writes, made the work of the scientist Vladimir Bonacic. After making t4 in collaboration with Picelj, he realised a number of works on computers based on pseudo-random numbers as well as the dynamic light object DIN. GF 100 which implemented in electronic circuitry the mathematical functions which had first been tested on computers. (Ibid., pp 50 - 51)

As Rosen points out, the events of the year 1968, the student revolt in Paris and the Soviet tanks entering Prague to end the Prague Spring left no impression on NT (Ibid., p. 51)

Various points of critique were raised, as Rosen highlights. Biasi criticised computers as a continuation of technologies which were only means of exploitation of the workforce. His critique, so Rosen, also pointed at the fundamental critique of Herbert Marcuse on scientific and technical rationality. Even more radical was the critique of the London based German born artist Gustav Metzger who had played an important role in the art of the 1960s with his autodestructive art works. He emphasised the importance of the computer for military research, in particular the H-bomb and nuclear war. 'There is hardly any doubt that computer art is the avantgarde of the military,' said Metzger as quoted by Rosen. Yet Metzger as well as Frieder Nake did not plead for an end of computer based art. 'Only a deeper understanding of science and technology' could guarantee survival of humanity, Metzger is quoted as saying. Rosen's account ends with a quote of Molen who said that 'the computer would bring a revolution of deeper significance than the machine revolution, which had inspired Marx.' (Moles 1968, quoted by Rosen)


This last statement sits firmly at the relative beginnings of a narration which replaces Marx inspired critique with the un-Marxist ideology of the coming of the information age, as Richard Barbrook writes in Imaginary Futures (Barbrook 2007). New media technologies, not humans, become the sole agents of social change. This philosophy of a modified McLuhanism should become the ideology of media art. In this regard, as well as in many other ways, NT show the problems and aporias of media art, albeit in an early stage, yet, because of that, maybe increased clarity.

As I saw the show in 2007, what made itself felt soon was a wireframe fatigue, there were simply too many plotted computer graphics on the walls, yet those were of very different origins, which was not made that clear at all. There were the technically advanced but artistically naive works by the engineers of Boeing, IBM and Bell Labs and works by artists. In my view an art show should highlight the technical genesis of such exhibition objects. Yet at Ars Electronica, the worlds oldest and biggest media arts festival, till today works by scientists and by artists stand side by side. In 1999 Linus Torvalds even received the Golden Nica for his creation of the operating system Linux. There would be circumstances under which this could be welcomed but not if there is a general confusion of categories and also not considering the highly problematic status of media art in contemporary art theory and art history. As explained above, the works after 1968 shown in NT are often based on the demonstrations of the possibilities of the medium. As the medium is defined through technological progress, this is very problematic for media art because the progress of the art form would then be only a faculty of technical progress guided by capitalisms need to invent.

Another point is the foregrounding of the aspect of computer art as visual research. It appears that this is a rather surface oriented approach void of any depth which ignores many other issues relevant for art. Russian constructivism for instance, had many other concerns besides the 'visual' as such. The NT shows 1 to 3 continuated with research inspired by a constructivist ethos and its inquiry dealt with issues such as space and time as well as the role of the viewer and the artwork. The artwork as research is not just concerned with 'the visual' but also those other complex issues. (see on this also Thomas Crow, The unwritten histories of conceptual art. In: Art after Concept Art. Alberro and Buchloh, edts. 2005)

A closer and critical look at the exhibition also reveals that some artists seem to have used rather naively and opportunistically the chance to work with programmers and get computer time on machines which were then very difficult to get access to. This work is often very similar to but in reality categorically different from those works -- which are in a minority -- which dealt with real scientific problems of the time. I was lucky enough to visit the exhibition with a young computer scientist and biologist who could point out this difference: some works are merely 'visual' applications of systems art, reiterative and aleatory visual compositions; others which produce a similar visual output are based on actual issues in molecular biology and computer science. A similar gap affected also some of the text based works -- works by artists using language and the computer to either investigate similarities between code and language or to produce a 'deconstructed' neo-dadaist code literature. The deconstruction remains again on a superficial aesthetic level and lacks the philosophic wit and irony of, for instance Art & Language.

The whole institutional field surrounding computing in this early age, its embeddedness in a cold war logic, is not addressed by the art works, they do not reflect the conditions of their making. Thus, artists and scientists try to create a pure 'information asethetics' yet can hardly speak to each other and are separated from society. What we encounter here are the seeds of problems that art and technology practices would continue to have till today. A teleological discourse which puts all 'progressive' tendencies in modern art in the service of a teleology which will finally lead to interactive computer art glosses over those problems. Yet this is where media arts perceptive problems with critical art theorists start and where the field has not come to a self-perception which would allow to overcome those problems.

ZKM exhibition website: Bit International

An interesting and important account of the Bit International exhibition last year in Graz has been given by Lidija Merenik in Mute Magazine. Her article emphasises much more the political historic context of Yugoslaivias specific position as a socialist state but one which did not belong to the Soviet led Eastern Bloc from which distinct Yugoslavian cultural politics resulted. See Before the Art of New Media

Special thanks to Margit Rosen who pointed out some mistakes in translations and attributions of quotes."

See also Darko Fritz's poster about Vladimir Bonacic for the re:place conference in Berlin, fall 2007:


the following article was written by Herbert W. Franke on telepolis (only German):

Das Wunder von Zagreb
Herbert W. Franke 28.05.2007

Es ist sicher sinnvoll, dass einige Jahre vergehen müssen, ehe die Kunstkritik von einem Ereignis Notiz nimmt – so wird verhindert, dass jede nebensächliche Modeerscheinung in die Geschichte eingeht.

Bei der Computerkunst hat das vier Jahrzehnte gedauert, und den Schlüssel zu diesem Gesinnungswechsel findet man seltsamerweise in Zagreb. Dort gab es in den 60er Jahren eine Reihe von Veranstaltungen, die unter dem Stichwort "Neue Tendenzen" liefen. Vierzig Jahre später waren sie der Anlass für ein halbes Dutzend Ausstellungen, die in deutschen Städten gezeigt wurden. Man versuchte die Bilder, die damals Aufsehen erregten, wieder zusammenzuholen und erneut zur Diskussion zu stellen, darunter auch Computergrafiken der ersten Stunde. Noch heute ist es bemerkenswert, dass man diese gemeinsam mit Arbeiten konventioneller Kunst präsentiert und dadurch eine Beziehung zwischen ihnen offen legt, die bisher kaum Beachtung fand.

Herbert W. Franke, der Physiker, Computerkünstler, Science-Fiction-Autor und Höhlenforscher, feierte am 14. Mai seinen 80. Geburtstag. Telepolis wünscht alles Gute und freut sich auf eine noch lange Zusammenarbeit!

"Wie konnte es dazu kommen, dass gerade dort, in einem kommunistischen Staat, Interesse für modernste Kunstströmungen bestand, wo doch sonst nur dumpfer Realismus gestattet war?

1966 – Manfred Graef, Grafiken aus der Zeitschrift ZAAZ zu den Themen 'Reihung', 'Transformation', 'Optische Täuschung', 'Symmetriebrechung', 'Interferenz' usw.

Tatsache ist, dass es um 1960 herum in Jugoslawien zu einer Tauwetterperiode kam. Es waren zwei Kunstkritiker, Matko Meštrović und Radoslav Putar, die auf die Idee kamen, eine Art Bestandsaufnahme dessen zu machen, was in den Jahren davor im Westen an künstlerischer Innovation entstanden war. Als Verbündeten gewannen sie Božo Bek, den Direktor der 'Galerie für zeitgenössische Kunst' in Zagreb, und schließlich sicherten sie sich die Mitarbeit des brasilianischen Künstlers Almir Mavignier, der sich in diesen Jahren in Kroatien aufhielt. Er hatte die Biennale in Venedig besucht und wurde gebeten, während eines Podiumsgesprächs in der Zagreber Kunstakademie darüber zu berichten. Doch er verkündete, dass die Art der Bilder in Venedig vom Kunsthandel beeinflusst und nichts Interessantes dabei war.

Links: 1965/66 – Edgar Knoop 'Harmonische Farbquantitäten', kreiseladditive Farbmischung*, Proportionen nach der Fibonacci-Reihe. Rechts: 1970 – Edgar Knoop ,Farbraumobjekt '70', kreiseladditive Farbmischung (Edgar Knoop: Die Farbhöhe und ihre Bedeutung für die Materialisation des Farbraumes. Die Farbe 18, 1969, Nr. 1/6, Bundesamt für Materialprüfung Berlin), Proportionen nach der Fibonacci-Reihe

Um Zukunftsweisendes aufzutreiben, so meinte er, müsse man sich in den Ateliers von jungen, noch wenig bekannten Künstlern umsehen. Und da er eine bessere Übersicht von dem hatte, was dort beachtenswert erschien, wurde er gebeten, eine Namensliste zusammenzustellen. Man wollte die genannten Personen einladen, sich an einer Ausstellung in Zagreb zu beteiligen, für die Mavignier den Namen"Neue Tendenzen" vorschlug.

Mavignier selbst ist künstlerisch im Bereich der Konkreten Kunst tätig, man kennt von ihm zum Beispiel Reihungen geometrischer Elemente in Schwarz, Weiß und Silber. Gewiss bevorzugte er gegenstandslose Konfigurationen mit klaren Formen und hohem Ordnungsgrad, man muss ihm aber zugute halten, dass er sich bei seiner Auswahl nicht nur vom eigenen Vorbild leiten ließ, sondern Künstler sehr unterschiedlicher Richtungen auf die Liste setzte. Insbesondere stand er allen Versuchen, das ästhetische Ziel mit neuen Werkzeugen und Methoden zu erreichen, offen gegenüber. So fanden sich in seiner Auswahl Bilder, die mit mechanischen Schwingungssystemen zustande gekommen waren, wie auch solche der damals neu begründeten generativen Fotografie. Und es gab kinetische Objekte und Gestaltungen mit Licht.

Schließlich hatte man 25 Künstler aus Europa und Südamerika namhaft gemacht, von denen manche in Gruppen zusammengeschlossen waren, beispielsweise 'Grav' aus Frankreich, 'Zero' aus Deutschland, und 'Exat 51' aus Jugoslawien. Obwohl zwischen den Künstlern verschiedener Herkunft bisher keine Verbindung bestanden hatte, konnte man eine überraschende Verwandtschaft in den ausgestellten Werken und damit auch in den zugrunde liegenden Prinzipien feststellen. So war es also auch ein Verdienst der Zagreber Aktivitäten, dass die Schöpfer dieser Werke erstmalig in Kontakt miteinander kamen – noch nie hatte es einen so freien Gedankenaustausch zwischen Kunstschaffenden aus Ost und West gegeben. Und da es in Zagreb nicht um Handel und Honorare ging, standen dabei künstlerische Fragen im Vordergrund, auch die politische Thematik wurde nicht ausgegrenzt.

1961 bis 1967 – Eugen Roth 'Metallbilder'. Sie bestehen aus zwei Bildebenen. Den Hintergrund bildet eine Metallplatte, beispielsweise aus eloxiertem Aluminium. Zur weiteren Bearbeitung des Untergrunds hat Eugen Roth ein Gerät entwickelt, mit dem er ein Linienmuster von Streifen erzeugen kann. Rund fünfzehn Millimeter darüber wird ein System aus weiß lackierten Stahldrähten montiert. Unter Ausnutzung ihrer natürlichen Elastizität lassen sich diese zu harmonisch geschwungenen Kurven verformen. Bewegt sich der Betrachter am Bild vorbei, so kommt es zu Interferenzen zwischen beiden Ebenen.

Das Aufsehen, das die erste Bilderschau, Tendencija 1, 1961, erregt hatte, zog weitere Ausstellungen nach sich, verbunden mit Symposien, die mehr und mehr an Bedeutung gewannen. Es wurde deutlich, dass in den neuen Ideen, die da deutlich wurden, ein mächtiges Potential steckte, und es war insbesondere die positive Einstellung zur Wissenschaft und Technik, die eine nachhaltige Erweiterung der gestalterischen Möglichkeiten mit sich brachte. Das drückte sich in einer bis dahin kaum berücksichtigten Motivklasse aus, dem Formenschatz einer zunehmend zur Visualisierung neigenden Naturwissenschaft, aber auch im Einsatz technischer Gestaltungsmethoden und unkonventionellen Materialien. So hatte sich für die zur Betrachtung angebotenen, äußerlich oft sehr unterschiedlichen Beispiele relativ rasch ein gemeinsamer Nenner ergeben, und das leitete zur Frage über, ob die 'Neuen Tendenzen' den Charakter einer Gruppe annehmen sollten. Einige der beteiligten Künstler machten sich den Begriff in diesem Sinn zueigen, ohne dass eine offizielle Legitimation dazu erfolgt wäre, doch zumindest wird dadurch eine Sammelbewegung gekennzeichnet und eine bestimmte Strömung, die bis heute wirksam ist.

In diesem Zusammenhang kam es auch zu Überlegungen, ob man für die Teilnahme an den Ausstellungen ein strengeres Auswahlprinzip festlegen sollte; so war zum Beispiel von einem Ausschluss der Gruppe Zero die Rede, bei deren Exponaten man die strenge Systematik vermisste. Und von den deutschen Teilnehmern kam sogar der Vorschlag, verbindliche Stilgesetze vorzuschreiben, deren Einhaltung dann von einer Kommission geprüft werden sollte. Glücklicherweise konnten sich keine Kräfte durchsetzen, die die wohltuende Freiheit des bisherigen Auswahlverfahrens eingeschränkt hätten; allerdings führten die Meinungsverschiedenheiten dazu, dass sich Almir Mavignier aus den Zagreber Aktivitäten zurückzog.

1966 – Manfred Graef, Grafiken aus der Zeitschrift ZAAZ zu den Themen 'Reihung', 'Transformation', 'Optische Täuschung', 'Symmetriebrechung', 'Interferenz' usw.

Die Folgen der künstlerischen Initiative ließen sich aber nicht aufhalten, die Neuen Tendenzen wirkten über den lokalen Rahmen weit hinaus. Drei im Westen gezeigte Ausstellungen der neuen Tendenzen sind zu vermelden, wobei neben Venedig und Leverkusen jene in Paris, 1964 im Museum für dekorative Künste im Palais du Louvre, besonderes Aufsehen erregte und damit bekannter wurde als die Vorarbeiten in Zagreb selbst. Bei der Zusammenstellung der berühmten Ausstellung 'The Responsive Eye' im New Yorker Museum of Modern Art 1965 ließ sich der Kurator, William C. Seitz, von Eindrücken leiten, die er in Paris gewonnen hatte. Erst daraufhin, als Folge einer Besprechung im Time Magazin' wurde der Ausdruck 'Op Art' geprägt.

1965 bis 1967 – Edgar Knoop 'Farbformen und Formfarben', Kunstverein München, Ausstellung 1967, zusammen mit Friedrich Schmuck als 'Gruppe 58'

Aber damit war die Entwicklung der Neuen Tendenzen noch nicht zu Ende. Man kann es als glücklichen Zufall auffassen, dass es zur Zeit der Zagreber Aktivitäten in verschiedenen westlichen Ländern zu den ersten Versuchen kam, Computergrafiksysteme für freie Gestaltungsexperimente auszunutzen. Denn das, was da mit mechanischen Zeichenapparaten zu Papier gebracht wurde, entsprach genau der Philosophie der 'Neuen Tendenzen', in vieler Hinsicht sogar noch in verschärfter Form: Was da äußerlich sichtbar wurde, sah zwar zunächst noch harmlos aus – gegenstandslose Strichzeichnungen, einfach und in den Farben beschränkt, den Erzeugnissen von Konstruktivsten ähnlich. Doch die darin definierte Ordnung und der experimentelle Charakter der Versuche waren erheblich stärker ausgeprägt. Und noch ein wesentlicher Gesichtspunkt: Dahinter zeichnete sich die Aussicht auf eine Vervollkommnung des elektronischen Instrumentariums ab, die zu verheißungsvollen Erweiterungen der Gestaltungsmöglichkeiten – bis zur universellen Kunstmaschine! – führen könnten. Doch schon die Anfänge waren beeindruckend: zum Beispiel beim Übergang zur Bewegung oder zum interaktiven Gebrauch, wobei der Adressat in den laufenden Produktionsprozess eingreifen kann.

Und hier bewährte sich die Offenheit der Zagreber Initiativen in besonderem Maß – in einer geradezu grotesken Umkehrung der Verhältnisse konnte man sich in diesem Umfeld unbehindert auf die Fragen einer mit digitaler Elektronik gestalteten Kunst einlassen, während sich in den westlichen Ländern, und besonders in der damaligen Bundesrepublik, entschiedener Widerstand mobilisierte. Robert Jungk und Joseph Weizenbaum warnten vor dem Einsatz von Computern, die Produkte der militärischen Rüstung seien; die Angehörigen der 68er-Generation sahen sie als Instrumente des Kapitalismus und damit der Unterdrückung an; und die breite Front der Kunsthistoriker lehnte es kategorisch ab, Kunst mit Hilfe von Maschinen hervorzubringen.

1961 bis 1967 – Eugen Roth 'Metallbilder'

Zwar gab es auch im Westen eigenständige Veranstaltungen, die der Computerkunst gewidmet waren, die wichtigste sicher 'Cybernetic Serendipity' in London 1968, vom deutschen Philosophen und Mathematiker Max Bense angeregt und von der in Polen geborenen und in London lebenden Kunstschriftstellerin und Ausstellungsorganisatorin Jasia Reichardt kuratiert, aber in den wenigsten wurde eine Verbindung zwischen der herkömmlichen und der computerunterstützten Kunst hergestellt. Einen Anstoß dazu sollte die 1968 anlässlich einer gemeinsamen Tagung des MIT und der Technischen Universität Berlin veranstaltete Bilderschau 'Kunst aus dem Computer' zu geben, bei der Computerkunst gemeinsam mit konkreter Kunst zu sehen war. In Zagreb dagegen wurden die vielfachen Zusammenhänge deutlich, bei den Ausstellungen ab 1968 konnte man den Einsatz des Computers als folgerichtige Konsequenz der Strömungen erkennen, die sich in den Bildern der früheren Ausstellungen abzeichneten. Aus dem Aspekt der Kunstgeschichte ist das das wichtigste Verdienst der Zagreber Aktivitäten. Und es erklärt schließlich auch, wieso es gerade jetzt, wo man die Gestaltung mit Hilfe des Computers als Kunstform anzuerkennen beginnt, zu einer Reihe von Veranstaltungen kam, die auf die 'Neuen Tendenzen' in Zagreb zurückgehen und die damals präsentierten Bilder dem Publikum wieder vor Augen halten.

Für Zagreb bedeutete das Aufkommen der Computerkunst eine Neuorientierung, die allerdings ganz auf der bisher eingeschlagenen Linie lag. Es gab nur wenige Teilnehmer, die sich damals protestierend abwandten, die meisten nahmen mit Interesse das zur Kenntnis, was die neue technische Methode versprach, oder versuchten sie praktisch anzuwenden. Im Vordergrund standen natürlich Bilder, aber es gab auch schon Anzeichen für Erweiterungen, beispielsweise mit kinetischen Systemen wie einem mobilen Metallobjekt von Vladimir Bonaćić oder mit computergenerierten gegenstandslosen Filmen von Tomislav Mikulić, um nur zwei Künstler aus dem Gastland zu würdigen. Noch wichtiger aber war das Auftreten der Theoretiker; denn gleichzeitig mit dem Aufkommen des Computers hatte sich dieselbe Theorie, die auch die Basis des digitalen Rechnens ist, als vielversprechendes Fundament einer rationalen Kunsttheorie erwiesen. Und so trat in Zagreb der Franzose Abraham Moles mit seiner auf dem Informationsbegriff beruhenden Ästhetik auf, man diskutierte die kunsttheoretischen Arbeiten von Max Bense , und man konnte dort auch den Ausführungen der ersten Wissenschaftler und Künstler folgen, die sich des Computers als Kunstinstrument bedient hatten: vor allem Frieder Nake und Georg Nees. Diese sind Theoretiker und Praktiker zugleich, und damit weisen sie auf eine weitere in Zagreb diskutierte Innovation hin: dass nämlich nun mit dem Computer auch ein ideales Instrument für ästhetische Experimente vorliegt, die in Wechselwirkung mit der rationalen Ästhetik zu einem besseren Verständnis jenes Phänomens führen, das wir 'Kunst' nennen.

Was ist noch anzufügen?

Anfang der 70er Jahre ging die Tauwetterperiode in Jugoslawien gewaltsam zu Ende, Zagreb erlebte einen Aufmarsch von Militär, um die Stadt herum fuhren Panzer auf, und die Periode der Freiheit und Offenheit ging zu Ende. Manche Initiatoren und Förderer der 'Neuen Tendenzen' wanderten ins Gefängnis oder wurden von Berufsverboten belegt, andere verließen das Land. Immerhin gelang es den Zurückgebliebenen, einen Großteil des Materials an Bildern und Schriften aus den 60er Jahren, das sich in Zagreb gesammelt hatte, vor der Vernichtung zu bewahren – und so steht es jetzt einer jungen Kunsthistorikergeneration zur Verfügung, die damit beginnt, die 'Neuen Tendenzen' wieder aufleben zu lassen.

Zu den Bildern

Als wichtiges Ergebnis der ersten Ausstellung der Tendencije-Reihe in Zagreb, zugleich auch als Bestätigung der grundlegenden Idee, wurde die überraschende Verwandtschaft im Stil, Methode und Denkweise aller jener Künstler hervorgehoben, die sich in Zagreb vorstellen durften. Das kann allerdings auch daran liegen, dass Almir Mavignier solche benannte, die seinen persönlichen Vorlieben und Kriterien genügten. Dass die in der Ausstellung gezeigte Auswahl wirklich einem weltweiten Trend entsprachen, zeigt jedoch die Tatsache, dass es außer den in Zagreb präsentierten Künstlern eine ganze Reihe von anderen gab, die auf derselben Linie lagen und dafür genauso repräsentativ sind wie die mehr oder weniger auf zufälligen Bekanntschaften beruhende Teilnehmerschaft in Zagreb. Wir verzichten daher auf eine erneute Wiedergabe der in den aktuellen Ausstellungen gezeigten Werke, die übrigens auch in mehreren Katalogen zu sehen sind, sondern benutzen zur Illustration Arbeiten von damals (und auch heute noch) aktiven Künstlern – eine Auswahl, die freilich ebenso zufallsbestimmt sein mag wie jene von Mavignier, aber sicher den Beweis der Tatsache erhärtet, dass sich damals, nach dem zweiten Weltkrieg, neben den herkömmlichen Arten, künstlerisch zu arbeiten, neue Wege abzuzeichnen begannen, in denen sich eine alternative Art ankündigte, unsere technische Welt positiv zu begreifen.

Manfred Graef, Jahrgang 1928, Graphikausbildung an der Meisterschule Kaiserslautern, 1952 – 1965 selbständig als Gebrauchsgraphiker, danach in Berlin als freier Künstler tätig. Spezialgebiet 'Konkrete Kunst' – visuelle Mathematik, Reihungen und Überlagerung elementarer Bildelemente, Erforschung ästhetischer Regeln im visuellen Bereich. Initiator der Gruppe ZAAZ, 1966 Herausgabe der gleichnamigen Publikationsreihe in acht Folgen mit Reproduktionen von Bildern zur Visualisierung syntaktischer Strukturen und konkreter Poesie.

1966 – Manfred Graef, Grafiken aus der Zeitschrift ZAAZ zu den Themen 'Reihung', 'Transformation', 'Optische Täuschung', 'Symmetriebrechung', 'Interferenz' usw.

Edgar Knoop, Jahrgang 1936, Studium der Philosophie und Kunstgeschichte an der Universität sowie der Malerei, Graphik und Kunsterziehung an der Akademie der bildenden Künste in München. Ebendort Hochschullehrer, Abteilung für experimentelle und angewandte Farbtheorie, zwischenzeitlich Lehrtätigkeit an mehreren ausländischen Universitäten. Stets auch künstlerisch gestaltend tätig. Leitprinzip im Sinn Konkreter Kunst: mit minimalen Mitteln maximale Wirkung zu erzielen. Auseinandersetzung der Wechselwirkung von Farbe, Licht und Form. Kritische Analyse verschiedener Farbtheorien in Theorie und Experiment.

1965 bis 1967 – Edgar Knoop 'Farbformen und Formfarben', Kunstverein München, Ausstellung 1967, zusammen mit Friedrich Schmuck als 'Gruppe 58'

Eugen Roth, Jahrgang 1925, Schule für Kunst und Handwerk Saarbrücken, 1971. Mitbegründer der 'gruppe parallel' in Ludwigshafen am Rhein. Konkrete Motive, dem Formenschatz von Technik und Wissenschaft entliehen, speziell mit harmonisch überlagerten Kurven. Aufträge für Wandbilder und Skulpturen im öffentlichen Raum. Einsatz unkonventioneller Materialien wie Metall und Kunststoff und Gebrauch von Werkzeugen wie Schweißgeräte und Fräsmaschinen. Seit dem Aufkommen hochwertiger Drucker Computergrafikserien zur Darstellung von Anordnungen metallglänzender Raumflächen mit gesteigerter Tiefenwirkung durch Lichtreflexe.

1961 bis 1967 – Eugen Roth 'Metallbilder'

Ausstellungen zum Thema 'Neue Tendenzen'

'Anfänge der Computergraphik aus der Sammlung Etzold' – Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach, Febr. bis April 2006

'Der Traum von der Zeichenmaschine' – Kunstverein Wolfsburg, Mai bis Juni 2006

'die neuen tendenzen' – Museum für Konkrete Kunst, Ingolstadt, Sept. 2006 bis Jan. 2007

'die neuen tendenzen' – Leopold-Hoesch-Museum, Düren, Jan. bis März 2007

'bit international – [Nove] Tendencije', Computer and Visual Research – Ausstellung in der Neuen Galerie am Landesmuseum Joanneum, Graz, April bis Juni 2007

'bit international' – wie oben, als Wanderausstellung in verschiedenen Städten wie Karlsruhe, Zagreb u.a. (in Planung), 2007


bit international Bd. 1-3, Galerije grada Zagreba. 1968

tendencije 4, Ausstellungskatalog, Galerija Suvremene Umjetnosti, 1970

tendencije 5, Ausstellungskatalog, Galerija Suvremene Umjetnosti, 1973

Die Neuen Tendenzen – Eine Europäische Künstlerbewegung 1961 bis 1973, Ausstellungskatalog, Museum für Konkrete Kunst, Ingolstadt, 2006

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... is a Media Art historian and independent researcher. She is currently writing on "speculative archiving && experimental preservation of Media Art" and graduated from Prof. Oliver Grau's Media Art Histories program at the Danube University in Krems, Austria with a Master Thesis on Descriptive Metadata for Media Arts. For many years, she has been working in the field of archiving/documenting Media Art, recently at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Media.Art.Research and before as the head of the Ars Electronica Futurelab's videostudio, where she created their archives and primarily worked with the archival material. She was teaching the Prehystories of New Media Class at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and in the Media Art Histories program at the Danube University Krems.